St. Peter's Chelsea church mural to be unveiled in NYC: Church deemed it too militaristic in 1954

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A religious mural depicting two military servicemen will be unveiled Sunday, nearly 60 years after it was deemed too militaristic by the historic St. Peter's Chelsea church in Manhattan, according to a statement from the parish.

St. Peter's installed a painting in 1946 by Ted Witonski titled "Our Lord Blessing a Soldier and a Sailor." It features two men in uniform kneeling before Jesus Christ, according to a press release by St. Peter's church.

The congregation decided in 1954 to cover the painting because of its militaristic themes, according to the press release.

Witonski enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and quickly rose to the rank of colonel during World War II, his son, Peter Witonski, told CNN. Back from the war, Witonski found a home at St. Peter's, his son said.

"He simply wanted to show that Americans won the war. And here they are, having won the war not going out and getting drunk but kneeling down and praying," Peter Witonski said.

The decision to cover the painting came sometime after Witonski moved away, his son told CNN. Witonski had no idea that the painting was hidden under a curtain, his son added.

"I think he would have been hurt," Peter Witonski said. "It was a labor of love. He did not charge money for it,"

Ted Witonski died in the 1970s at the age of 65, according to his son.

Witonski produced a large body of art, and his work is exhibited by a number of prestigious institutions, according to his son.

Witonski is not the only one that did not know about his mural being hidden; most of the current congregation was surprised by the announcement of the unveiling, said parishioner Jennifer Maguire.

Once the congregation found out the painting exists, people started peaking under the curtain to glimpse it, said Maguire.

Maguire, who has been attending St. Peter's for 16 years, only learned about the painting when she volunteered to help take a survey of the church's artwork. After some research, Maguire learned the painter was a respected artist.

The interim pastor, Stephen Harding, told CNN that when he found out about the hidden work, he immediately thought to unveil it.

Harding said he hopes that being able to see the work will give people an opportunity to think about the history of the parish and the nation.

Peter Witonski told CNN he is looking forward to seeing the painting again after so much time.

"I feel that my father will be watching, somehow," he said.

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