KULPMONT - A birthday gift given 34 years ago to a borough woman has found a new home at the St. Mother Pauline Religious Center.

A portrait of Pope Saint John Paul II, painted by Easton artist Aleksander Popovic, was recently donated to the Kulpmont center by Esther and John Ballent. The portrait will be put on permanent display in the next few weeks.

"This has always been a Polish parish," Esther Ballent said of the center, the former St. Casimir's Church. "By putting it here, I know that it will be well taken care of."

Ballent received the painting of the pontiff, who was canonized as a saint in April, as a birthday gift from her husband 34 years ago because she was such a faithful admirer of John Paul.

"He was the Polish pope," Esther said. "I met him in Italy, and I have always supported him while he was pope and afterward."

When the Ballents wanted to get rid of some items, family members told them to sell the painting, but Esther wouldn't hear of it.

"It was given to me as a gift, so it will always be a gift to someone," she said.

It's a surprise present the Rev. Raymond Orloski will gladly accept on behalf of the center.

"It really is an exemplary painting, the detail of it, right down to the hairs on his head," Orloski said.

Visitors to the center will get their first look at the painting this weekend when John Paul's feast day is celebrated Saturday. Ut will be the first look anyone has gotten at the work of art in a while.

"Other than our family, we had the painting in a place that wasn't seen by others," John Ballent said. "We mostly kept it to ourselves."

Orloski said the painting will eventually be displayed in the west wing of the church, which will be converted into a shrine of Pope Saint John Paul II. Included in the display will be a white zucchetto (skullcap) that the pope wore. The zucchetto is currently on loan to a church in Philadelphia.