Academy of Mount St. Ursula Student Paints Portrait for Pope


Zuleika Rymer will remember and share her Easter memory for many years.

The senior at the Academy of Mount St. Ursula in the Bronx watched CBS correspondent Mo Rocca present to Pope Francis her portrait of St. Francis of Assisi during a Wednesday papal audience at the Vatican on the “CBS Sunday Morning” television program April 16.

“I saw his reaction and I was filled with a lot of joy and excitement,” Zuleika told CNY.

Rocca visited Vatican City and Assisi, St. Francis of Assisi’s hometown in Italy, to file a report for “CBS Sunday Morning.” The segment, which included interviews with Cardinal Dolan, looked at St. Francis of Assisi and the selection of the saint’s name by Pope Francis.

Cardinal Dolan was with Pope Francis as he greeted pilgrims at the papal audience when Rocca presented the portrait to Pope Francis. The report featured an interview of Zuleika at the Academy of Mount St. Ursula.

“When he (Rocca) came in, I was intimidated by all of it at first. The (CBS) staff eased my anxiety a little bit,” Zuleika said.

Sister Jean Marie Humphries, O.S.U., principal of Mount St. Ursula, said Zuleika participated in a high school art show at Concordia College in Bronxville and the archdiocese’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund contacted the high school to request that she paint the portrait.

“We were very honored one of our students was chosen for this opportunity,” Sister Jean Marie said. “It reminded us of the fact we emphasize academics, arts and services. It also was very positive to see the reaction of all the students to Zuleika’s honor and they were all supportive about it. We were thrilled and very blessed.

“Zuleika is a nice, all-around good young woman. She a quiet, polite student who likes to have fun and knows when to do that.”

Zuleika, who will attend Marymount Manhattan College in the fall, said she did some research before painting the portrait. She has three turtles as pets.

“I decided to look up paintings of St. Francis to see what I can do,” Zuleika said. “He liked animals and I also like animals. I felt a connection.

“I didn’t know Franciscans and monks were into wildlife and nature.”

St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, lived in the early 13th century and started the Franciscan order in Assisi, located a little more than two hours away from Vatican City. St. Francis, a friar and preacher, grew up in a wealthy family but gave up that life to serve God. Pope Gregory IX canonized him less than two years after his death in 1228.

Pope Francis, the 266th pope and the first from South America, was the first pope to take the name Francis when he was elected pontiff in 2013.

Zuleika said she was pleased with the portrait and hopes to create even better portraits in the future as she continues to study art. She kept a photo of her original portrait now at the Vatican, which has her signature above St. Francis of Assisi’s arm in which he holds a bird.

Zuleika said the experience was educational and one she’ll share with friends and future generations of her family.

“They may not believe me at first. I’ll have to keep a photo of the painting with me at all times to show them I actually did it,’’ said Zuleika, who’ll be ready to share the CBS video with them, too.


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