Artist Thomas Kegler with his painting of Niagara Falls, on display at the Castellani Art Museum.

From pre-Columbian times to the present, the Niagara River has been a waterway imbued with sacred significance. On Sept. 23, 2019, faculty members from Niagara University’s departments of English, biology, and religious studies joined artist Thomas Kegler in a panel discussion exploring the spiritual aspects of the river as part of the university’s Vincentian Heritage Week celebration.

Dr. Amelia Gallagher, professor of religious studies; associate professors of English Dr. Paula Kot and Dr. Jamie Carr; and Dr. William Cliff, professor of biology, explained the various meanings given to Niagara Falls, including the perspectives of Niagara University’s founding priests, 19th century Romantic writers, and modern-day pilgrims.

Dr. Gallagher’s presentation focused on the Rev. John Lynch, co-founder of Niagara University and later, archbishop of Toronto, who viewed the Falls as a site of pilgrimage. Dr. Kot discussed Nathaniel Hawthorn’s “My Visit to Niagara,” noting that he came with the expectation of having a religious experience, while Dr. Carr explored the ways the Niagara River region was portrayed by contemporary women authors, including Margaret Atwood, and the inspiration it provided for their work. Dr. Cliff presented on the ecocentric, anthropocentric, and theocentric values of the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, suggesting that giving worth to Niagara Falls leads to worshipping its creator.

Kegler, who paints Niagara Falls in the Hudson Valley tradition, gave the final presentation, discussing the spiritual imagery found in his paintings, which suggests the connection between God, Niagara Falls, and the viewer.

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