Conan’s papal portrait commissioned for Pope John Paul Award

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A talented Derry student has handed over a specially commissioned portrait of Pope John Paul II for the Award scheme set up in the late Pontiff’s name.

Conan Meehan (17) from the Brandywell, is an A level Art student at St. Joseph’s Boys’ School. He was asked to paint the portrait by Fr. Paul Farren, Director of the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre and founder of the Pope John Paul II Award. It is hoped the portrait will be reprinted and given to recipients of the award in future.

The Award launched in 2006 annually honours the contribution of young people to church and community across 11 dioceses and three arch dioceses in Ireland. This year more than 360 students in the Derry Diocese alone, will be awarded Papal Cross, Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards on Monday, March 7 and Tuesday, March 8 in the Millennium Forum.

Justin McMahon, Derry Diocesan Youth Coordinator, said: “The Pope John II Award gives young people between the ages of 16 to 18 an opportunity to play an active role in their parish and community by encouraging them to get involved at their local church through, for example, reading at mass or by helping out with whatever support is needed in the chapel.

“It also has a social awareness element which is about getting young people involved in their local community by volunteering at their local youth club or coaching an underage sports team or helping with a local charity.”

Anne Marie Hickey of the Pope John Paul II Award Committee, paid tribute to Conan’s work.

“It is absolutely fantastic that a young person has contributed to the Award as the Pope himself was so committed to young people. It’s a new fresh image. We are delighted with it. It will be used at both diocesan and national level. It is hard to believe that a 17 year-old has produced it.”

Conan was asked to take on the commission after a previous portrait of footballing legend Gordon Banks was seen by Fr. Paul Farren in the school Principal’s office.

Conan explained: “Last September I was asked by the School to do a portrait of the ex-England goalkeeper Gordon Banks as a gift for the Derry author Don Mullan who had done a lot of work at our school. It turned out really well and I presented this to Mr Mullan at prizegiving at the end of September. He was delighted with it. It was left in the principal’s office for Mr Mullan to collect and Fr. Paul Farren saw it when he was visiting.

“The principal told me that Fr. Paul Farren was really impressed with it and was wondering if I would do a portrait of the last Pope for the Pope John Paul II Awards. I was really happy to do it.

“It was a great opportunity and it’s a great honour to be asked. The portrait took about six days to complete as I had to balance it around my school work. It was hard work but it was worth it. I’m really pleased with the way it has turned out and I think it could be my best yet.”

Conan’s talent is well recognised in his school and his local community.

Reputation grows

As his reputation grows so too do requests from staff and family members. Even his sixth form supervisor, Miss Orla McCafferty has commissioned a portrait from the budding young artist. And his work has been bought by those with a discerning eye including his Art teacher Mr Martin McMenamin.

“He is a great artist. He is very dedicated and thorough. He is a very gifted great fine art painter. I bought the piece that he displayed in the Gordon Gallery in Derry, last year, as part of a schools’ art exhibition. It was a bargain.

“ I just loved it. I have it up on my bedroom wall now so it is going to be like an heirloom! He definitely has a career ahead of him in art; he’s just got a talent and he loves it.”

The school is very proud to have such a talented young artist. Principal, Mr Damien Harkin said: “Conan is an extremely talented and intelligent boy. He was one of our top students at GCSE in his year and he remains one of the top students at St Joseph’s. We are very proud of Conan and we are delighted that he has nurtured his talent through St. Joseph’s.

“The Pope John Paul II Award is an award that is very dear to my heart and very much steeped in the Catholic ethos of the school. We are absolutely delighted that a St. Joseph’s boy’s painting of Pope John Paul II may be the replication that’s given to everyone who receives the award in future.”

As for the portrait itself Principal Mr Damien Harkin said: “It’s absolutely first class, stunning.”

Conan credits his older brother Kevin, a former art student and pupil of the school, and head of the Art Department, Mrs Elaine McDermott for encouraging him, guiding him and instilling in him a passion for art. But Mrs McDermott is quick to point out where the credit lies.

“From the start Conan has always had a talent and it was definitely a very obvious one. What has made Conan the artist that he is today is sheer hard graft and determination. It is a joy to have him in the class. Teaching Conan stopped a few years back, working with Conan is what we do now. It is a matter of honing in on the skills that he already has and pointing him in the correct direction.”

Ambitious project

Currently Conan is working on an ambitious art coursework project with his teachers in the art department that is unlike anything that has been undertaken before. The end result is expected to scale at least eight feet and staff and students are excited to see how the project turns out.

Conan seems set for great things in the future, but for now one of his most treasured accolades are the words from Don Mullan inscribed in the Gordon Banks Biography, “A Hero Could Fly”.

“Conan you’ve made my night, the surprise was fantastic and the likeness is amazing. I will proudly display your portrait for the rest of my life.”