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Baldwin artist's painting of Pope Francis' life displayed at St. Patrick's Cathedral

Watercolor artist Catherine White in her studio in

Watercolor artist Catherine White in her studio in Baldwin on Sept. 19, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

When Pope Francis visits St. Patrick's Cathedral on Thursday evening for prayers, Catherine White won't be there -- but her artwork will.

White's painting of the pontiff's life is on display to the left of the altar in St. Patrick's Cathedral, a 22-by-30-inch watercolor of scenes surrounded by a gold frame. And while she is excited to have her artwork on display, the Baldwin artist said getting it there was an experience of faith.

It all began about two years ago, when White saw Pope Francis on television after his election as pontiff. She was inspired to paint -- first, the watercolor inspired by research she did on his life, and next a portrait in shades of blue with a bright light over the pope's heart, completed in 2014.

"I didn't even paint this picture of the pope to show anybody, I just did it for myself," she said Thursday in her studio.

White, 54, was one of 12 children and grew up in a household that was both artistic and religious. Her mother, Anna Klein, taught art classes in their Baldwin home and a backyard carriage house studio.

In 2003, White and her husband, Keith, moved back into her childhood home from Lindenhurst to help care for White's aging mother, who died in 2010. She set aside her art to focus on her five children.

"She kind of sacrificed her whole life," Keith White, 54, said of his wife. "She graduated from [C.W.] Post, then she immediately became a mom."

She mostly paints still lifes and floral arrangements in her mother's old studio, she said, and primarily uses watercolors. The pope paintings were some of her first serious paintings of religious imagery and part of her big push back into art three years ago, after her children had grown.

Whether White's recent success was divine intervention or sheer luck, White and friend Kathryn Burns said they don't know. But what they do know is that Burns was in the right place at the right time last fall after seeing White's paintings.

"I thought, wouldn't it be great if Pope Francis could see this painting?" Burns, 59, of Oceanside, said.

On that fall day, Burns couldn't find parking at her regular church. So she drove to St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre and found the church was hosting a service in honor of Bishop William Murphy, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Diocese of New York in attendance.

"If I can get in front of him, maybe I can pitch this idea," Burns said she thought to herself as she approached Dolan after the service.

After, she said, Dolan expressed interest, she made a few calls and tried to set up some meetings with St. Patrick's staff in Manhattan. But it wasn't until August that St. Patrick's rector, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, agreed to display White's work, after two meetings with the artist.

In a statement to Newsday, Ritchie said he liked the watercolor painting, one of several that White brought in to show him in January and again in August at Burns' insistence. He wanted to display it in September and through the pope's visit.

When Keith White, who works in midtown Manhattan, visited the cathedral on Sept. 2 during his lunch break, there was his wife's painting.

"I couldn't stop smiling," he said.

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