WASHINGTON, N.J.-A convicted murderer who embraced the Catholic Faith in prison after a life of crime has painted a large image of Our Lady of Fatima from his jail cell in Louisiana.
Charles Gervais, a lifer in Dixon Prison in Louisiana, told Sister Mary Francis, A.M.I., that he felt inspired to paint the image after hearing her speak on the message of Fatima to 50 inmates at the Louisiana prison.
Gervais worked day and night and prayed the rosary while painting the image over a period of months, according to reports from the World Apostolate of Fatima, a Washington N.J.-based organization which will house the painting for two months at its shrine.
After completing the work, a 6-foot-6-inch by 4-foot-6-inch oil on canvas painting which depicts a radiant Mary, hands folded, appearing before three children who are kneeling before her in prayer, Gervais started a Bible study and is trying to get at least three hours a week of adoration in the prison.
Gervais sat for an interview the day his painting was unveiled, recounting a life of crime which began after he ran away from home at the age of 12. He was cared for by prostitutes, then became involved in the occult. Starting his own cult at one point, he and his followers murdered a boy, the crime for which Gervais was sentenced to life in prison.
While in jail, Gervais said he experimented with various religions but kept being drawn back to Catholicism. He received the Sacrament of Confirmation in prison and painted a portrait of Baton Rouge Bishop Alfred Hughes for the occasion.
Gervais's son, Charles, 15, unveiled the painting of Our Lady of Fatima in a ceremony at the Shrine of the World Apostolate of Fatima in New Jersey.
Sister Mary Francis, who has been active in prison ministry for four years, was moved to tears on the day the painting was unveiled. She said she is deeply touched by the renewed piety she has witnessed in Gervais.
The Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children six times from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917. On October 19, 1917, Mary announced to the children that she was “Our Lady of the Rosary,” and called on people to reform their lives.
Pope John Paul II said that “conversion and penance” are the center of the Fatima message and the Gospel. He credited Our Lady of Fatima with his own survival of an attempted murder in a May 19, 1982 angelus message.
“I felt called [to visit Fatima] in a particular way as a result of the attempt on my life on the 13th of May last year.
“I have said many times already that it is only to the mercy of God and the special protection of the Mother of Christ that I owe the saving of my life and the possibility of further service to the See of Peter,” he said, stressing the need for reconciliation.