Artist’s religious paintings known around world
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent December 16, 2012 11:10PM
Updated: January 18, 2013 6:07AM
For many people, the religious pieces of Joliet artist Lillian Brulc at the former St. Joseph Catholic School in Joliet, Brulc’s own alma mater, were not just enchanting illustrations but their earliest catechetical remembrances.
However for the Rev. Michael Monshau, professor of theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, those illustrations became the foundation for his life’s vocation and a friendship with the artist.
“Lillian was something of a legend among us school children at St. Joseph,” Monshau said. “Before I graduated from eighth grade, I knew her personally. I was a guest in her studio/home and enjoyed talking to her about her art.”
In 1954, the church’s pastor commissioned Brulc to paint murals of such images as the Holy Family, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Don Bosco, the mysteries of the rosary, events surrounding First Communion and the Last Judgment in every room of the school. Her images transformed the school, Monshau said, into a museum of fine art.
This meant a loving depiction of Jesus welcomed the first-graders and eighth-graders gazed upon a pre-Vatican II representation of the Mass. Students studying for confirmation did so under the rays of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles and Mary. Schoolchildren ate their lunches under the watchful care of guardian angels.
“Perhaps the most beautiful of them all,” Monshau had written in the St. Joseph School Centennial Book, “in that sunny, upper, southwest classroom, which looks out over the skyline of of downtown Joliet on one side and the DesPlaines River on the other, is the beautiful scene of St. Therese, accompanied by angels, showering rose petals upon a sleeping village, all done in a subdued array of pastels.”
Brulc, one of seven children, loved art from childhood and eventually studied at and graduated from the Art Institute in Chicago. Although Brulc completed many solo projects, she often partnered with her sister, Lucille Dragovan, also an artist and Brulc’s last remaining sibling.
“She did mostly religious art,” Dragovan said. “She liked church and meditation. She inspired many people by her work.
Brulc painted murals for the city of Joliet, as well as St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Naperville and the former St. Mary Assumption Byzantine Catholic Church in Joliet. Brulc also created a sculpture depicting the Holocaust for the Joliet Jewish Congregation.
She was working on a Bermuda bishop’s portrait when she died Nov. 14 at the age of 88. Immediately after he learned of her death, Monshau offered Mass for Brulc in the cloister chapel at the Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome, where he is assigned.
Since leaving the United States, Monshau has found Brulc’s work all over the world. He’s viewed it on the covers of theology textbooks and in such places as Central America. Monshau said Brulc’s work shaped his spirituality to the same extent as did the sisters and priests who had educated him during his grade school years.
“Furthermore, I had always recognized Lillian’s contemplative spirit and that inspired me as a young priest,” Monshau said. “Lillian has been one of the true contemplatives in my life and one never remains the same after one has known a true contemplative.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or