In an effort to remind the community of what their school stands for, the fine arts department at St. Vincent de Paul High School has painted a mural with a simple message: All are welcome.

The words, taken from the Catholic hymn "All Are Welcome in this Place," stretch across the Tillman Center building overlooking the courtyard in the middle of the St. Vincent campus, backed by a brightly-colored mural of a tree flanked by doves in front of painted stained-glass. The picture sits under a painted banner that begins "May you be poor in misfortune, rich in blessings, slow to make enemies, quick to make friends."

For graduating senior Marc Calabrese, who spent several weeks painting the mural during his art classes, lunch breaks and even on the weekends, the words explain his time at St. Vincent's perfectly.

"I've always felt like this is a safe place where I can be myself, and where everyone is welcome," said the 17-year-old Calabrese. "Every day there's someone new who comes up to me and tells me that they feel the same as I do — both students and teachers. It's great that (I've) been able to help get this message out there."

The mural's completion comes on the heels of Archbishop Robert Vasa issuing a requirement for all teachers under the Santa Rosa Diocese to sign a "morals" addendum last month. The document required all teachers to say they believe that things such as homosexual marriage, abortion, contraception and euthanasia are "modern errors" that "gravely offend human dignity." After hearing much public outcry and meeting with local pastors, Vasa reversed his decree and delayed his controversial edict for at least two years. During that time, the bishop said, he will be meeting with pastors and administrators to properly implement his decree with more input.

Principal John Walker said that the mural is not a response to the bishop's addendum and pointed out that the mural was underway before the morals requirement became public. "While we are very pleased with the bishop's decision, the events were unrelated," Walker said.

Walker said another reason for the mural is that next year St. Vincent must renew its school accreditation — a process which all schools must undergo to be certified educational institutions — and said that "mission exercises." such as the mural, which demonstrate the school's values, are a part of that process.

Almost all of the wide, flat pillars surrounding St. Vincent de Paul's courtyard are covered in student artwork. Through the years, graduating classes have left their particular messages for future high schoolers to see. But this is the first large-scale mural to adorn the walls of the courtyard.

Walker said that the entire school has truly gotten behind its message of acceptance and love.

"Those words express what we truly are," said Walker. "We're a safe haven. Our students are going to be secure and we are going to nurture them."

Father Gary Lombardi, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul's church in Petaluma, said this particular hymn is his favorite. "This is what the church is truly about," he said. "Jesus never made discriminations, and neither do we. Not only are we about educating our young people, we're about offering an environment of love. "

Arts teacher Amy Waud-Reiter said that when she and fellow arts teacher Marla Pederson began conceptualizing the mural, they were focused on creating something that would welcome the community and make a statement as to what the school was about. "Some of the teachers had gotten together and wanted to do something special," said Waud-Reiter. "We decided that a mural would be the way to go and that's how the project came about."

Waud-Reiter and Pederson drew the initial sketches of the mural over Spring Break and began seeking help from students like Calabrese when they returned from break.

"It was really about getting a positive message out to end the year and start next year with," said Pederson.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)