In 1844 a young Frenchwoman who had trained as a portrait artist entered the Society at the Trinita dei Monti in Rome. Despite having only the most rudimentary knowledge of fresco painting, she ended up painting a fresco of Mary as a young girl, enjoying a contemplative moment in the midst of her work. On 20th October 1846 Pope Pius IX saw the fresco and declared it was Mater Admirabilis. Somehow, she seems too young and delicate for such a weighty title, but "admirable mother" was what Mary did in fact become. Since 1846, copies have been displayed in every Sacred Heart school and college around the world, often inspiring devotion in teenage girls who are the same age as the serene, pensive young Mary.
A striking feature of the fresco is the fact that Mary is wearing a pink dress, when popular iconography has invariably dressed her in blue. I have never forgotten a sister commenting, when I was a novice, that a pink dress has featured - one way or another - in most Western females' history: we have either coveted one, or proudly, delightedly owned and twirled about in one (or more); or we have decisively rejected ever wanting one, or - sadly - been forced into one in order to please uncomprehending adult relatives. Whichever category Pauline fell into, a pink frock was undoubtedly significant for her, and would have been so for the generations of schoolgirls praying before this picture.
But this year, for me, Mater's pink frock has taken on new significance. A few months ago I read an article saying how, until the last century, blue was generally seen as a little girl's colour, because of its inherent softness and association with tranquility. Pink's proximity to red - a strong, bold, passionate colour - meant it was more likely to be used for dressing boys than girls. I recall an elderly low church aunt in Noel Streatfeild's Edwardian-set memoir A Vicarage Family saying that in her youth no respectable girl ever wore pink, and at last the comment makes sense. So in the mid-nineteenth century Mater's pink dress would have definitely made a statement: that within her quiet, still, serenity lived a woman of great strength and passion.
And isn't that what Mary was and had to be, to live congruently her extraordinary call from God? Not a sugary pink princess, or a pale, fragile rosebud, but a strong, full-bloodied woman of passionate fire, living her YES with courage and totality. Serene and contemplative yes, but also courageous and daring. May she pray for us, that we too may be likewise...