EXCHANGE: Illinois surgeon making glass mosaic for hospital

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EFFINGHAM, Ill. (AP) — In the rich mosaic of life, Christmas is a time of gifts.

And Effingham physician Ruben Boyajian is a firm believer in the gospel that says it is far better to give than to receive.

The general surgeon who specializes in breast surgery is already known for his precisely sliced and to-scale gingerbread house creations. These annual gifts to the community have included painstaking representations of local building landmarks and even the White House.

Now the good doctor is involved in an artistic operation a cut above even all that, and has laid aside his gingerbread in favor of mosaic glass pieces and a project that will take him three years to complete.

Behold, Dr. Boyajian's mosaic rendition of the "Canticle of Brother Sun." Named for a song in praise of God and his elemental creation written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224, this mosaic picture will consist of three panels, each 9 feet high and 8 feet wide. The grand work is designed to grace an arched wall fronting windows that give on to the "Healing Garden" at HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital, where Boyajian is director of the Women's Wellness Center.

The surgeon is now busy working on it in the carpeted depths of his home basement workshop. Giving a quick tour, he shows off a first panel featuring a blazing Mediterranean sun flashing light beams out of a sky rendered in multiple hues of blue. The light illuminates the Basilica of St. Francis (built in Assisi, it houses his remains) and the gothic masterpiece is full of stained glass windows that the surgeon's long and delicate fingers are itching to duplicate in fragments of mosaic cut precisely to shape.

"That part is going to be challenging and I love it," he says with a smile as bright as his cold mosaic sun. "I can't wait."

Drawings for panel two show St. Francis in a gardenlike setting, communing with animals and accompanied by St. Clare who, legend says, built a home for him with her fellow members of the Order of Poor Ladies when he was gravely ill and wrote the canticle. Laid out in sketch form, it's easy to see how the colors of nature will blaze brightly under the surgeon's loving hand, while overhead a swirling blue van Gogh-like blue sky crowns the picture.

In the final image, the canticle combines with more recent history. Flames burst out of the third panel, lapping at the original St. Anthony's Hospital that suffered a devastating fire in 1949 in which 74 people died. It's still rated America's worst hospital conflagration, and yet from the ashes came the faith to build the present medical center. The last part of the image will show a dove soaring away from the flames and winging its way towards the current hospital's chapel.

Below that is the final line of St. Francis' song to God: "... Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks and serve him with great humility."

Which pretty much sums up Boyajian's prescription for a healthy existence. He likes St. Francis because he lived a life devoted to praising God by helping others, and his devotion inspired the Congregation of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, that founded St. Anthony's Hospital in 1875. The surgeon says the Effingham hospital and others like it were created around the idea of giving something back to your community, and so the mosaic is his gift, paid with countless hours of his own time.

"The idea of giving is what motivates me," says Boyajian, who looks a little embarrassed. "I suppose I am kind of an idealist."

But still a realist with a pulse rate not immune to the size of the undertaking stretching before him in thousands of pieces of glass imported from Italy in more than 200 color and shade variations. He started the sketch and design work a year ago and expects to have the first panel ready for installation by April, God willing.

"And we just can't wait to see it," says Terriann Tharp, division director of marketing and communications for HSHS St. Anthony's, with HSHS standing for Hospital Sisters Health System, which now runs the place. "Knowing Dr. Boyajian's talent, we know it's going to be marvelous."

So no additional pressure on the surgeon who comes home, eats dinner and spends time with his family (when he is not on call) and then heads to the basement to lay hands on St. Francis again. He gets so into it sometimes, he's still down there placing and cutting and replacing mosaic pieces at 2 a.m. Other times, he wakes up before dawn from fitful dreams about his grand undertaking, bright chinks of doubt lodged in his mind.

"I'm thinking, 'Can I do this? Or not? I must be nuts,' " he recalls with a smile. But the glazed look in his eyes never lasts long, and the man who earns his living saving people by cutting bad bits out of them transmutes feelings of pressure into inspiration.

"I say this with all humility," he says. "But I really do perform better under stress."


Source: (Decatur) Herald and Review,


Information from: Herald & Review,

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TONY REID - (Decatur) Herald and Review


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