Marie Adélaïde de Bethune
January 12, 1914 – May 1, 2002
January 12, 1914 – May 1, 2002
Ade Bethune was born in Brussels, Belgium on January 12, 1914 and emigrated to the United States with her family in 1928. Her parents were interested in both the progressive movements of the day and the deep traditions of Catholicism and Christianity. She was educated at Cathedral High School in New York, the National Academy of Design and Cooper Union. Her prize-winning stained glass medallion, done in 1933 while at the National Academy, won her a trip to the Boston studios of Charles J. Connick to execute the design.
As a young art student in 1930s New York, Ms. Bethune became a disciple of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. Her early works reflect her observations and sympathies toward the poor and disadvantaged people she saw all around her in Depression-era New York. Her designs were often published in The Catholic Worker newspaper, including its masthead, which she created in 1935 and redesigned in 1985.
Ms. Bethune was especially talented at drawings that depict Biblical scenes, and at drawing saints. The people in her drawings tend to be working class, ordinary people, dressed in the common clothes of the present-day. They perform everyday chores, and often are shown in what she called "acts of mercy," such as nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless.
Two Catholic Worker readers who took an interest in her work, architect Graham Carey and stonecutter John Howard Benson, became her artistic mentors. Benson owned the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island, founded by stonecutter and mason John Stevens in the early eighteenth century. Ms. Bethune began spending part of the year at Benson's shop where she learned stone and woodcarving and calligraphy. She moved to Newport permanently in 1938 and lived there until her death on May 1, 2002.
Shortly after moving to Newport, Ade Bethune took in her first apprentices. The John Stevens Shop became "John Stevens University," a workshop where students could learn from master craftsmen Benson, Carey, and photographer W. King Covell, in addition to Ms. Bethune. She was to continue working with apprentices for the rest of her life.
Ade Bethune received her first church commission in 1935, when she was asked to carve three crucifixes for Saint Paulinus Church in Clairton, Pennsylvania. Her work expanded to include the artistic component of church design from New England to Mexico and the Philippines. There was no limit to the materials she worked with or objects she designed: painted panels and murals; mosaics; stained glass; woodcarving; vestments, banners, and other textiles; metal and pottery chalices.
She also became a liturgical consultant to church architects. Local projects include Lumen Christi Church in the Highland area of St. Paul (formerly the Church of St. Leo) and a baptistry mosaic for the Cathedral of St. Paul. Her illustrations and writings have appeared in Liturgical Arts, Catholic Art Quarterly (she was editor for 2 years), Orate Fratres, Interracial Review, Catholic Elementary Art Guide, and many others.
Ms. Bethune's commitment to social justice was lifelong. In 1966 she helped found the Church Community Housing Corporation to develop affordable housing in Newport County. She designed the prototype for more than 30 new houses for first-time, low-income owners, including Newport's first solar-heated house. Her final project, completed just over four months before her death, was the transformation of a Newport harbor-front farm built by the Auchincloss family in 1894 into Harbor House, an elderly housing complex containing 38 living units for residents of mixed income.
Tribute prepared by The College of Saint Catherine, St. Paul, MN.