There were many beautiful works of art to see Sunday at the dedication of the Fr. Michael E. Komechak Art Gallery at Benedictine University. But for many, the gallery's most important feature wasn't seen, but felt.
Komechak, a beloved university teacher and art curator, had long wanted to create a gallery on the Lisle campus. He died in 2009 before realizing his goal, but attendees at Sunday's dedication said they could feel him everywhere.
"This is gorgeous," Benedictine University President William Carroll said. "And Fr. Michael is omnipresent here."
Teresa Parker, the university's current art curator who assembled the works on display in the gallery, agreed.
"His spirit is in every part of this room," she said.
The gallery, located on the fifth floor of the Kindlon Hall of Learning, features a small selection of the thousands of works of art that Komechak collected over the years for the university. The school plans to rotate the works on display periodically, and officials envision the gallery as a site for lectures, tours and other activities.
Komechak was a passionate supporter of art and the artistic process, which he viewed as a gift from God, Parker said. For decades he collected works from all over the world, including paintings, photography, sculpture, drawings and more. Some of the works he bought, while others were donated by the artists. Many wound up on display on walls throughout the Benedictine campus.
"He saw art as a valuable teaching tool," Parker said. "He wanted to share it with the Benedictine community."
His tastes were eclectic; works from the great masters sat side-by-side in his collection with works from contemporary Chicago-area artists. The gallery's inaugural exhibit, for example, includes a work from Henri Matisse -- the last one Komechak ever acquired -- and one from Audrey Niffenegger, an artist and novelist who teaches at Columbia College Chicago.
Parker went through his entire collection, which officials say includes more than 4,000 pieces, and carefully selected the works that would be included in the gallery's first exhibition. All of them have a personal connection to Komechak, she said.
"I'm so happy to see all this work up and on display," she said. "This was a labor of love, for him and for me and for our whole university community. This will be such a wonderful addition to this university."
Parker said the university will continue to hang works from Komechak's collection in other locations on campus.
Sunday's dedication included refreshments, music, short talks from Carroll and Parker, and then a recording of Komechak discussing his love for art and his desire to create a gallery. The recording, which was a surprise addition to the ceremony, moved many who attended.
An official "grand opening" for the gallery will be celebrated Oct. 12, during the university's homecoming festivities, Parker said.