St. Thomas Aquinas called charity the greatest of the virtues. This panel, located at the end of the ceiling as you ascend the grand stairway, gives the viewer the physical sensation of being led upward to this virtue. Charity is played out on a city sidewalk; a woman cradles a lifeless figure. A mythical pelican envelops the couple and offers its own blood from its plucked breast to revive the figure.
The medieval story says that the pelican killed its misbehaving young. After grieving for three days, it plucked its own breast and fed its young with revitalizing blood. The lesson of this story is that we, too, are like the pelican. Without empathy or concern for others, we wither as well. Dante called Christ "nostro pelicano," likening the legend of the pelican to the Passion of Christ.
Christ said in John 13:34, "That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." Charity is more than the mere act of giving what is surplus; it is giving of ourselves
On Oct. 20, 1994, an open house was held to celebrate the completion of the Frescoes of St. Thomas. Seven community members were invited to comment about what each panel meant to him or her, personally.
Herbert Bissell, lifelong volunteer, spoke about the Charity panel:
"To me, as with Paul, 'charity' is inevitably a partner with 'love.' But by itself, in contemporary society, the word 'charity' is frequently related to the outcast, the most helpless of us all. Love, on the other hand, has no dimensions. It is all-encompassing, all-embracing. So I would prefer this panel to symbolize the totality of love rather than "charity." The imagery of this speaks to this, and tells us that the message of love is for all humanity to capture, the good people, the bad, the weak, the strong, all faiths, everyone in this room. No one, no one, can successfully live without showing love to other.