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In Memoriam

Adélaide Bethune
January 12, 1914 - May 1, 2002

Photo by Mary Farrell

A Mass of Christian Burial was held at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 4, 2002, at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island.
Ade was an oblate of the abbey and is buried there.


ADE BETHUNE, 88, of 111 Washington St., a liturgical artist and art director, and a former art teacher, died Wednesday at home.

Born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, a daughter of the late Gaston and Marthe de Bethune, she immigrated to New York in 1928.

From 1933 to 1938, she was closely associated with Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement, and she designed the masthead and provided the illustrations for the Catholic Worker. In 1936, she began working with Newport artist John Howard Benson. She also taught art at the Portsmouth Priory (now Abbey) School.

In the 1940s, she set up the St. Leo Shop on Thames Street, establishing herself as a liturgical artist and consultant in church architecture.

From the 1960s to the present, she was art director of the Terra Sancta Guild of Broomall, Pa., producing church furnishings, liturgical objects, memorial cards and religious objects for home use.

Gifted and broadly skilled, she was a sculptor, painter, mosaic artist, wood carver, and jewelry and metal worker.

She was a founder of the Church Community Housing Corporation in 1969, and designed the prototype house for the corporation's building program. She oversaw construction of many of these units throughout Newport County.

In 1991, she founded Star of the Sea, a nonprofit corporation, to provide living quarters for the elderly. In conjunction with the the housing corporation, Star of the Sea acquired the unused property of Cenacle Convent, at 111 Washington St. She oversaw the refurbishing of the site's five structures into a state-of-the-art facility to house the elderly.

She leaves a brother, Andre de Bethune of Portsmouth; a sister, Francoise Fuchss of Bear, Switzerland; and numerous descendants.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the chapel at Portsmouth Abbey, Cory's Lane, Portsmouth.

"When the Catholic Worker began, under Peter Maurinís inspiration in 1933, one of our first visitors was Ade Bethune, then a young girl who was going to Cathedral High School here in New York City. She brought us a number of black and white drawings of the saints, all of them working. We were delighted with them. They were exactly what we wanted, as Peter Maurinís concept of man as a co-creator with God, 'little less than the angels,' born with duties to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Jesus said--'Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the harborless, bury the dead. Do this and thou shalt live.' The duty of all Christians."

Dorothy Day, "On Pilgrimage - May 1978", The Catholic Worker, May 1978, 2.

Ade Bethune Meets
Dorothy Day

Ade Bethune heard of the Catholic Worker for the first time at a Wednesday evening get-together of four art school friends: Gertrude and Agnes McLoughlin from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Ann Weaver from Selma, Alabama, and Lalah Durham from South Carolina.

The time was fall, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. One of Ade's student companions had heard of two women who were giving hospitality to the poor, if need be, sleeping themselves on newspapers on the floor.

This sounded worth investigating. So Ade found her way to 436 East Fifteenth Street, near Second Avenue, a small storefront, where she saw a few guests sitting with cups of coffee. Old clothes were ready to be given away. A young woman, Dorothy Weston, gave her copies of The Catholic Worker paper, which had begun circulation the previous May Day. Ade was a nineteen-year-old art student at Cooper Union in New York. The strikes and labor unions discussed in the paper did not mean much to her, but she did understand about hospitality. That struck a chord; she wanted to be involved.

She admired the bold black and white drawings of the Communist publication, The New Masses. By contrast, The Catholic Worker looked shabby. So Ade set to work at once and sent several pictures to the editor with the following undated letter addressed to Dorothy Day and her helper, Dorothy Weston:

Dear Dorothies-There is but one thing I can make: that is pictures. So I send you a few already-I hope you can use them for The Catholic Worker. But this bothers me about them. Doesn't it cost you an awful lot of money to get the plates made? Can you find out if I couldn't possibly engrave or etch them directly upon wood or whatever the metal is they use? Please let me know in case you find out. I mean to do you more of the "Corporal Works of Mercy" but I thought I'd start with "Harboring the Harborless" as winter is yet far from finished. I also mean to do your Patron St. Joseph for his feast in March. And whenever you are in need of a picture please ask me. All right? With all my best for the Work. 114 E. 90 A de Bethune N---Y---C

Next, Ade gathered up two shopping bags of clothes for the poor and paid her second visit to the Catholic Worker. She was wearing a trench coat and beret. Dorothy Day thought she was carrying her belongings and looking for shelter.

A tall woman, with a face as though it had been carved by an axe, told me very kindly, "I'm so sorry; we don't have any more room." I was so shy that I stuttered, "I'm the girl who made the pictures for you; and I brought these clothes for you." "Oh," she said, "You are? Fine." She took the two shopping bags and sat me on a pile of newspapers. Then she took out a missal and said, "All right, we're going to use your Saint Joseph for March, but we'll need a picture for April. Saint Catherine of Siena's feast comes in April. She was the twenty-first child in her family and was cook for the big household, including the dye workers of her father's business. Catherine decided to make the kitchen her cloister, her place of prayer.

Stoughton, Judith. Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek: Ade Bethune, Catholic Worker Artist. (St. Clound, MN, North Star Press, 1988), p. 37

Dorothy Day Meets
Ade Bethune

For the first six months that we published The Catholic Worker, we longed for an artist who could illustrate Peter's ideas. An answer to our prayers came in the form of a young girl just out of high school who signed her work, A. de Bethune. Her woodcuts were of worker-saints, St. Peter the fisherman, St. Paul writing in prisons, walking the roads and indoctrinating St. Timothy, St. Crispin the shoemaker, St. Conrad and a host of minor saints, if any saints could be called minor who gave their lives for the faith, whose hearts burned with so single-hearted a fire.

"A picture," Ade reminded us, "was worth ten thousand words." Through a misunderstanding as to her name, we signed her pictures Ade Bethune and so she was called by all of us. She was Belgian and it was only some years later that we knew her title, which her mother continued to use, Baronne de Bethune. The aristocrat and the peasant Peter got on famously. "Our word is tradition," he said happily, and wrote a little essay, "Shouting a Word."

Mrs. Bethune and her daughter illustrated for Peter many ideas besides noblesse oblige. He liked to illustrate his ideas by calling attention to people who exemplified them. The Bethune family performed all the works of mercy out of slender resources, earned by the labor of their hands. They had come to this country at the close of World War I. They exemplified voluntary poverty and manual labor and the love of neighbors to the highest degree.

When Ade built up her studio in Newport where the family moved soon after we met them, she took in apprentices, young girls from different parts of the country who could not have afforded to pay tuition or to support themselves. Two of her apprentices married and went to live on Catholic Worker farms, and are now mothers of large families. My own daughter went to her when she was sixteen and stayed a year, learning the household arts. For to Ade, as to Eric Gill and Peter Maurin, the holy man was the whole man, the man of integrity, who not only tried to change the world, but to live in it as it was.

Whenever I visited Ade I came away with a renewed zest for life. She has such a sense of the sacramentality of life, the goodness of things, a sense that is translated in all her works whether it was illustrating a missal, making stained-glass windows or sewing, cooking or gardening. To do things perfectly was always her aim. Another first principle she always taught was to aim high. "If you are going to put a cross bar on an H," she said, "you have to aim higher than your sense of sight tells you."

Dorothy Day. The Long Loneliness. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952. p.190-1.