Monday, September 1, 2014


St. Germaine

For years I have prayed to Sts. Genevieve, Germaine and Cuthbert for safe and healthy lambs. But there are more out there waiting to be called upon for their gifts. There are patrons of the sheep themselves, of the lambs, of the ram, of the shepherd and shepherdess, and even of the vet, who may be called in for his/her earthly talents.

ST. GERMAINE COUSIN was born in the remote village of Pibrac in 1579. Germaine was a frail and sickly child. Her right arm was deformed and partially paralyzed. She was prey to every disease of the times due to the unsanitary conditions under which she lived.

Germaine was a shepherdess who lived with the animals she tended. She had a mattress of hay and twigs in the corner of the barn. She was never sent to school, merely instructed briefly in order to make her First Holy Communion. The girl was shunned by children of her own age, and ignored by adults. Her only refuge was the Church. There she heard Mass every morning.

When St. Germaine died in 1601, the animals were the only ones there to comfort her. The night she passed from this life to the next life, two monks traveling from Toulouse had a remarkable vision. At midnight, they were awakened by heavenly music overhead, accompanied by a pathway of light, inhabited by angels. A tip of the luminous pathway rested over a barn in the distance. It seemed Germaine was being escorted into heaven.

Pope Gregory XVI declared Germaine "Venerable" on May 23, 1845, stating Germaine is the saint we need." Pope Pius IX beatified Germaine on May 7, 1854. He then canonized St. Germaine on June 29, 1867. He said, "Go to Germaine. She is a new star shedding a marvelous glow over the Universal Church."

ST. SOLANGE of BOURGES  (d.. 880) was a Frankish shepherdess,  born to a poor but devout family in the town of Villemont, near Bourges. She consecrated her virginity at the age of seven and according to some, her mere presence cured the sick and exorcised devils. The son of the count of Poitiers was highly taken with the beauty and popularity of Solange and approached her when she was working on tending to her sheep, but she rejected his suit. He argued with her to no avail, and so he decided to abduct her.

At night, he came and took Solange by force, but she struggled so violently that she fell from his horse while he was crossing a stream. Her abductor grew enraged and beheaded her with his sword. Solange's severed head invoked three times the Holy Name of Jesus, according to the fully developed legend. Solange picked up her head in her own hands and walked with it as far as the church of Saint-Martin in the village of Saint-Martin-du-Crot (which now bears the name of Sainte-Solange, the only commune in France to bear this name), only dropping truly dead there.

ST. GENEVIEVE  was born about the year 422, at Nanterre near Paris. When she was little she didn’t attend school as she had to help her father with the sheep that her family owned. When she was watching the sheep, Genevieve often prayed. Sometimes she would just sit and think about how she could carry on the Lord’s mission. 

St. Genevieve

She was seven years old when St. Germain of Auxerre came to her native village on his way to great Britain to combat the heresy of Pelagius. The child stood in the midst of a crowd gathered around the man of God, who singled her out and foretold her future sanctity. At her desire the holy Bishop led her to a church, accompanied by all the faithful, and consecrated her to God as a virgin.

St. Genevieve-Louveciennes, France

When Attila was reported to be marching on Paris, the inhabitants of the city prepared to evacuate, but St. Genevieve persuaded them to avert the scourge by fasting and prayer, assuring them of the protection of Heaven. The event verified the prediction, for the barbarian suddenly changed the course of his march.

The life of St. Genevieve was one of great austerity, constant prayer, and works of charity. She died in the year 512. Her feast day is January 3rd. She is the patroness of Paris.

ST. CUTHBERT of LINDISFARNE is considered one of England's most revered saints. Although tradition says that Cuthbert was the son of an Irish king, it is most likely that he was born in the vicinity of Melrose, in present day Scotland, of poor parents. Certainly we know that he tended sheep on the hills above the abbey when he was older. The young Cuthbert may have been influenced by the nearby monks of Melrose Abbey in his choice of vocation; when he was sixteen he received a vision of the soul of St. Aidan being carried to heaven by angels. This vision may have convinced him to enter holy orders at Melrose, but he did not rush to fulfill his calling.

St. Cuthbert
Instead, Cuthbert spent several years as a soldier, probably in the service of the Kingdom of Northumbria against the attacks of King Penda of Mercia. After that conflict had ended, Cuthbert entered the monastery at Melrose, where his devotion earned him high praise.

At the Synod of Whitby in 664, a decision was made to follow the Roman liturgical customs introduced by Augustine of Canterbury in place of the Celtic practices that were formerly followed. While St. Colman, the local bishop, and his monks refused to accept the decision of the Synod of Whitby and left for Ireland, Cuthbert seemed to have accepted the introduction of the Roman practices and remained. Cuthbert, then, followed his abbot, St. Eata, from Melrose to Lindisfarne, where he became prior and later abbot.

From Lindisfarne, Cuthbert continued his missionary work southward to Northumberland and Durham. Cuthbert had become entranced with the sea and rocky lands of Lindisfarne and yearned for a solitary life there. In 676, he actively turned to such a life by retiring to a cave and shortly thereafter he moved to a cell he built on the isolated island of Inner Farne that was south of Lindisfarne. Yet he was still sought after. After being implored strongly by the king of Northumberland, Cuthbert, in tears, agreed to accept election as a bishop in 684. While initially destined for the see of Hexham, Cuthbert exchanged sees with St. Eata and was consecrated bishop of Lindisfarne in March 26, 685, on the Sunday of the Resurrection, by St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, and by six bishops in York.

For the next two years, Cuthbert, while maintaining an ascetic life, led his diocese by caring for the sick, distributing alms, working the many miracles that earned him the title of Wonder-worker of Britain. Then, during the Christmas season of 686 in declining health he resigned his office and retired to his cell on the Inner Farne Island where he reposed on March 20, 687.

One of my favorites, but the least known is BL. PANACEA de'MUZZI of QUARONA.  Panacea’s mother died when the girl was an infant. When she was old enough, Panacea worked as shepherdess. Her father re-married, but her step-mother, Margherita di Locarno Sesia, quickly developed a hatred of the girl, partly because she would not work as ordered, and partially because Panacea was a pious little girl and Margherita hated religion.

One spring evening of 1383 , while Panacea, fifteen at the time, was looking after the sheep, the stepmother found the girl in prayer, near the ancient church of St. John. Furious, she scolded the girl severely and, in the throes of rage, struck violently and repeatedly with a spindle, killing her instantly. The woman threw herself in despair into a nearby ravine. Panacea's father, the local priest and villagers tried to lift her off the ground but failed.  

 Finally, the body was carried downstream and placed on a cart pulled by oxen, but the oxen could not pull the wagon and  so were replaced by two heifers. They were to drive the body to a special field, but the owner opposed the burial in his field. The heifers, guided by the spirit of Panacea, resumed their journey towards the plains followed by the Bishop, the clergy and by many people. The church bells rang  and people saw the carriage stop in the cemetery where the mother of Panacea  was buried. 

ST. CUTHMAN of STEYNING  was born about 681, either in Devon or Cornwall, or more probably at Chidham, near Bosham, about 25 miles from Steyning. Most probably, Saint Wilfrid, the Apostle of Sussex (680-685) converted and baptized Cuthman and his parents.

St. Cuthman

His legend states he was a shepherd who had to care for his paralyzed mother after his father's death. When they fell on hard times and were forced to beg from door to door, he built a one-wheeled cart or wheelbarrow  in which he moved her around with him. They set out east, towards the rising sun, from his home and, even though the cart broke, he improvised a new one, deciding that when that cart broke again he would accept it as a sign from God to stop at that place and build a church. It broke at the place now called Steyning, upon which he prayed.

After building a hut to accommodate his mother and himself, he began work on the church (now St Andrew's, Steyning, which in the 20th century instituted a Cuthman chapel in his honor), with help from the locals. As the church was nearing completion and Cuthman was having difficulty with a roof-beam, a stranger showed him how to fix it. When Cuthman asked his name, he replied:

    "I am He in whose name you are building this church."

Whatever date we ascribe to Cuthman, this church was in existence by 857, for we know that King Æthelwulf of Wessex was buried there in that year.

According to one legend, one day as he was watching his sheep, he drew a line around his sheep with his staff so that he could get away to collect food. On his return, he found that the flock had not left the invisible boundary. This miracle may have taken place in a field near Chidham, which for centuries was known as ‘St Cuthman’s Field’ or ‘St Cuthman’s Dell.’ It was said that a large stone in the field, ‘on which the holy shepherd was in the habit of sitting,’ held miraculous properties.

St. Cuthman
Christopher Fry wrote a play on him in 1938 called "The Boy with a Cart", performed at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1950, directed by John Gielgud and with Richard Burton as Cuthman, from which the following is a quote:
            “ It is there in the story of Cuthman, the working together
            Of man and God like root and sky; the son
            Of a Cornish shepherd, Cuthman, the boy with a cart,
            The boy we saw trudging the sheep-tracks with his mother
            Mile upon mile over five counties; one
            Fixed purpose biting his heels and lifting his heart.
            We saw him; we saw him with a grass in his mouth, chewing
            And travelling. We saw him building at last
            A church among whortleberries…"

ST. BERNADETTE SOUBIROUS is one of our more modern patronesses of sheep. Most know her story as it was to her Our Lady appeared at Lourdes, while Bernadette watched her sheep. She was born in Lourdes, France, on January 7, 1844, the daughter of Francis and Louise Soubirous. Bernadette, a severe asthma sufferer, lived in abject poverty. On February 11, 1858, she was granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a cave on the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. She was placed in considerable jeopardy when she reported the vision, and crowds gathered when she had further visits from the Virgin, from February 18 of that year through March 4.The civil authorities tried to frighten Bernadette into recanting her accounts, but she remained faithful to the vision. 

On February 25, a spring emerged from the cave and the waters were discovered to be of a miraculous nature, capable of healing the sick and lame. On March 25, Bernadette announced that the vision stated that she was the Immaculate Conception, and that a church should be erected on the site. Many authorities tried to shut down the spring and delay the construction of the chapel, but the influence and fame of the visions reached Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon Ill, and construction went forward. Crowds gathered, free of harassment from the anticlerical and anti-religious officials. In 1866, Bernadette was sent to the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers. There she became a member of the community, and faced some rather harsh treatment from the mistress of novices. This oppression ended when it was discovered that she suffered from a painful, incurable illness. 

St. Bernadette
She died in Nevers on April 16,1879, still giving the same account of her visions. Lourdes became one of the major pilgrimage destinations in the world, and the spring has produced 27,000 gallons of water each week since emerging during Bernadette's visions. She was not involved in the building of the shrine, as she remained hidden at Nevers. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI. 

 Other patrons of sheep are: Sts. Regina, Drogo, George,  Castulus of Rome, Dominic of Silos, Julian the Hospitaller, Pascal Baylon, and Ursinus of Bourges and Raphael the Archangel.

St. Drogo

St. Pascal

Friday, August 29, 2014


St. Brigid

We all know to pray to St. Francis of Assisi for protection of our pets, but there are many saints that people have prayed to, even before St. Francis' time, for intercession on behalf of domestic and farm animals. Having had a dairy cow recently come down with milk fever after she had her calf (she is doing well now), we know a thing or two about these patrons.

Who are these saints and how did they get their job as our special patrons? First we will find a few that help us with our cows/cattle.

The first saint, not well known in our country, is ST. BERLINDA of MEERBEKE (Belgium).(d. 702) a Benedictine nun of noble descent.  She is invoked against cattle diseases. She was a niece of St. Amandus and she was disinherited by her father, Count Odelard, after he became sick with leprosy and believed that she would not take proper care of him.

Berlinda fled to a Benedictine convent at Moorsel,  and became a nun. After her father died, she became a hermit at Meerbeke, where her father had been buried. Her tradition states that she spent her life helping the poor and suffering. She later became a hermitess at Meerbeke.

She is depicted as a nun with a cow and either a pruning hook or branch (she is also patroness of trees), but I could not find a reason for either. As long as she does her job helping us out, we do not care!       

ST. BRIGID of IRELAND (451–525) along with St. Patrick is the most well known patroness of cows/cattle. She was probably born at Faughart near Dundalk, Louth, Ireland. Her parents were baptized by St. Patrick, with whom she developed a close friendship. According to legend, her father was Dubhthach, an Irish chieftain of Lienster, and her mother, Brocca, was a slave at his court.

From the start, it is clear that Brigid was holy. Before a name had been given to the infant, Dubthach dreams of three clerics baptizing her. One of the clerics told her father, "Let Brigit be your name for the girl". When the druid tries to feed her, she vomits because he is impure. Dubhthach recognises his impurity and finds a white cow with red ears to sustain her instead. As she grows older, Brigid performs many miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. St Brigid is celebrated for her generosity to the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigid's prayers

Even as a young girl she showed an interest for a religious life and took the veil in her youth from St. Macaille at Croghan and probably was professed by St. Mel of Armagh, who is believed to have conferred abbatial authority on her. She settled with seven of her virgins at the foot of Croghan Hill for a time and about the year 468, followed St. Mel to Meath. About the year 470 she founded a double monastery at Cill-Dara (Kildare) and was Abbess of the convent, the first in Ireland. The foundation developed into a center of learning and spirituality, and around it grew up the Cathedral city of Kildare. She founded a school of art at Kildare and its illuminated manuscripts became famous, notably the Book of Kildare, which was praised as one of the finest of all illuminated Irish manuscripts before its disappearance three centuries ago.

St. Brigid was one of the most remarkable women of her times, her extraordinary spirituality, boundless charity, and compassion for those in distress was great. She died at Kildare and  she is buried at Downpatrick with St. Columba and St. Patrick, with whom she is the patron of Ireland. Her name is sometimes Bridget and Bride. St Brigid is portrayed as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle, and to control the weather.

was born to a loving family in the British part of the ancient Roman Empire (probably in modern Wales) in 385 AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official who also served as a deacon in his local church. Patrick's life was fairly peaceful until age 16, when a dramatic event changed his life significantly.

A group of Irish raiders kidnapped many young men, including 16-year-old Patrick, taking them by ship to Ireland to be sold into slavery. After Patrick arrived in Ireland, he went to work as a slave for an Irish chieftain named Milcho, herding sheep and cattle. Patrick worked in that capacity for six years, and drew strength from the time he often spent praying. He wrote: "The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. ...I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

One day, Patrick's guardian angel, Victor, appeared to him in human form, manifesting suddenly through the air while Patrick was outside. Victor told Patrick: "It is good that you've been fasting and praying. You will soon go to your own country; your ship is ready."

Victor then showed Patrick how to find his way  to the Irish Sea to find the ship that would take him back to Britain. Patrick successfully escaped and was united with his family. After Patrick had enjoyed several comfortable years with his family, Victor communicated with Patrick through a dream. He showed Patrick a dramatic vision that made Patrick realize that God was calling him to return to Ireland to preach the Gospel message there. So he left his comfortable life with his family and sailed to Gaul  to study to become a priest. After he was appointed a bishop, he set out for Ireland to help as many people as possible in the island nation where he had been enslaved years before.

For more than 30 years, St. Patrick served the people of Ireland, proclaiming the Gospel, helping the poor, and encouraging others to follow his example of  faith and love in action. He died in 461.

Other patrons of cows/cattle are Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and St. Cornelius.

St. Cornelius

Monday, August 25, 2014


SERVANT of GOD AUGUSTINE TOLTON, born in Missouri  in 1854,  was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be black when he was ordained in 1886.
His mother Martha,  who was raised  Catholic, named him after an uncle named Augustus. He was baptized Augustine in St. Peter's Catholic Church in Brush Creek, Missouri, a community about 12 miles from Hannibal. His master was Stephen Elliott. Savilla Elliot, his master's wife
, was Augustine's godmother.

How the Tolton family gained their freedom remains a subject of debate. According to accounts Father Tolton told friends and parishioners, his father escaped first and joined the Union Army. His mother then ran away with her children, Charley, Augustine, and Anne. With the assistance of sympathetic Union soldiers and police, she crossed the Mississippi River into the Free State of Illinois. According to descendants of the Elliott family, though, Stephen Elliott freed all his slaves at the outbreak of the American Civil War and allowed them to move North.

After arriving in Quincy, Illinois, Martha, Augustus, and Charley began working at the Herris Tobacco Company where they made cigars. After Charley's death at a young age, Augustine met Father Peter McGirr, an Irish-American priest, who gave him the opportunity to attend St. Peter's parochial school during the winter months when the factory was closed. The priest's decision was controversial in the parish. Although abolitionists were active in the town, many of Father McGirr's parishioners objected to a black student at their children's school,
but Father McGirr held fast and allowed Augustus to study there.


Despite Father McGirr's support, Augustus was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied. Impressed by his personal qualities, Father McGirr continued to help him and enabled him to study in Rome. Augustine graduated from St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy University) and attended the Pontifical Urbaniana University, where he became fluent in Italian as well as studying Latin and Greek.

He was ordained at the age of 31 in Rome on Easter Sunday at the basilica of St. John Lateran. Fearing that Father Tolton’s priesthood would be filled with suffering given the prevailing racial prejudice that prevailed in the United States, his superiors thought he would serve as a missionary priest in Africa. However, his mentor, Giovanni Cardinal Simeoni, challenged the Church in the United States to accept Father Tolton as its first African-American priest. “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see if it deserves that honor.” He returned to his home Diocese of Alton, Illinois, which once embraced the Dioceses of Springfield and Belleville. After his First Mass in Quincy, he was assigned to St. Joseph Church, the “Negro Parish.”assigned to the diocese of Alton (now Diocese of Springfield), Father Tolton first ministered to his home parish in Quincy, Illinois. Later assigned to Chicago, he led the development and construction of St. Monica's Catholic Church as a black "national parish church", completed in 1893 on Chicago's South Side.

Father Tolton suffered under increasing isolation and feelings of apprehension, perpetrated by local clergy with whom he needed association, to say nothing of the town’s lay Catholics. He became well known around the country as the first visible Black Catholic priest, renowned for his preaching and public speaking abilities and his sensitive ministry to everyone. He was often asked to speak at conventions and other gatherings of Catholics of both races.

Father Tolton became renowned for attending to the needs of his people with tireless zeal and a holy joy. He was a familiar figure in the streets and
back alleys, in the Negro shacks and tenement houses. He had the pastoral sensitivity needed to bring hope and comfort to the sick and the dying, to bestow spiritual and material assistance, and to mitigate the suffering and sorrow of an oppressed people.

Father Tolton began to be plagued by "spells of illness" in 1893. Like most poor People of Color, Father Tolton lacked adequate health care.  At the age of 43, he collapsed and died as a result of a heat wave in Chicago in 1897.

After his death, St. Monica's was made a mission Church. In 1924 it was closed as a national parish, as black Catholics chose to attend parish churches in their own neighborhoods.

His correspondence with St Katherine Drexel and shows us a humble and prayerful man of remarkable faith. He proved an example of a true priest of Jesus Christ in an extraordinary time, when most Americans could not imagine that a son of Africa could make a significant contribution to society or to the Church. In a June 5, 1891 letter to Mother Katherine Drexel he wrote, “I shall work and pull at it as long as God gives me life, for I am beginning to see that I have powers and principalities to resist anywhere and everywhere I go.”

"Good Father Gus", as he was called by many, was known for his "eloquent sermons, his beautiful singing voice and his talent for playing the accordion."

On the 2nd March 2010 Cardinal George of Chicago announced that he was beginning an official investigation into Father Tolton's life and virtues with a view to opening the Cause for his canonization. This Cause for Sainthood is also being advanced by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, where Father Tolton first served as priest, as well as the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, where his family was enslaved.

On February 24, 2011 he was made Servant of God in the first step towards canonization.


“He was a man beset on all sides by racism and its tragic consequences. Yet, he dared to believe that no door can be kept closed against the movement of the Lord and the power of the Spirit.”  Father Eugene Kole, O.F.M., President of Quincy University, during the Centennial  Observance of  Father Tolton’s death, July 12-13, 1997

Thursday, August 21, 2014


This is the last in our series of contemporary American Catholic women artists (at least for now).

I grew up under the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (L.A.) and have great regard for their fine education. Unlike many teaching orders when I was a child, these women were highly
educated and instilled in us, even back to first and second grade, a love of learning - something absent in much of our education system today.

ANSGAR HOLMBERG, CSJ, studied with Ade Bethune, but her own art moves in a different direction.  Her colorful works are more reminiscent of folk art than conventional religious images.  She does not create for a liturgical purpose; rather, her art results from her own spiritual journey and life changes.  Her interpretations of themes are not fixed in the manner of Icons, but ever changing through time. 

At 77, Sister Ansgar  is happier than she's ever been. The religious life she chose as an 18-year-old still fits. The art she enjoyed as a young nun has become a vital expression of her faith.
Occasionally, an educational purpose sneaks into her work. 
Root of Jesse

Her award-winning folk art flows from a buoyant spirit and serious convictions about care of the Earth and the least among us, a clear reflection of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet's mission "to love God and neighbor without distinction." 

O Adonai

In her painting, Sister finds the process so soothing that it is at times  a "retreat." Art, she explains, is a form of prayer; it both demonstrates and deepens her faith. "There's no separation.”
Her vibrant colors bring hope !

Gospel According to St. John

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Song of Creation

 My hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude... People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.  (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

JULIE LONNEMAN  is a freelance illustrator who lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio where she maintains a studio. Her illustrations on themes of spirituality and social justice have appeared in magazines such as America, Sojourners, and St. Anthony Messenger, and have graced the covers of numerous books and newsletters. Her illustrations were featured on the 2011 Year of Grace calendar published by Liturgy Training Publications  and she recently illustrated a three year cycle of Sunday readings for Living Liturgy, published by Liturgical Press

An amazingly versatile artist, Julie works in many media and styles, but she is best known for her black and white scratchboard images and her colored pencil illustrations. She acknowledges many influences, from tribal, folk, and medieval art to the work of twentieth-century artists Käthe Kollwitz  (my favorite artist of 20th C.) , Fritz Eichenberg and Franklin Carmichael, and  contemporary liturgical artists. Julie is particularly grateful for the insights gleaned from her 25 years of membership in New Jerusalem, a Catholic  lay community founded in the 1970's by Richard Rohr, OFM. His teaching helped her to form the understanding of scripture that underlies her work.

In her "Song of Creation," she shows St. Francis ecstatically singing the Canticle of the Sun: "Though weak and almost blind, he composed this song of praise as the end of his earthly life drew near."

It was also at New Jerusalem that Julie met her husband, Bill, currently an assistant professor of nursing at the College of Mount St. Joseph. They have two daughters, born in 1984 and 1987.

Julie and Bill are actively involved in their working class neighborhood and in Franciscans Network, an organization that supports global human rights work.  Her work is featured at TRINITY STORES

She has said that she is grateful for the "priestly work she has been given as a woman and as an artist."

As a Catholic artist, she recognizes the "sacramental nature of art," through which "we are deepened, refreshed, challenged and re-created."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things.
 (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

was born in New Mexico where her father's family has deep roots. When her grandfather, William R. Dobson, came to New Mexico from Colorado, he married Emilia Garcia, a very talented self-taught painter whose family had been sheep ranchers for several generations.

On her mother's side, Grace is Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian. Because her maternal grandmother was an Orthodox Christian, icons were part of Grace's growing up. Because of this,  Grace was inspired  to become an  iconographer as well as a santera. "There are a lot of things in common between icons and retablos". 

After a pilgrimage to the famous medieval shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Grace became  interested in her own Spanish art and culture. Wanting to explore this in depth  she majored in Spanish Literature in college and then did graduate work in Art History.

The cultural awakening led Grace to become a self-taught santera. She says that her ancestors on both sides have given her a spiritual as well as a cultural legacy.

San Pasquel

Her use of pastels in most of her art, makes her unique in the world of santeras.  Grace's work is found in private collections across the United States and abroad.

MARILYN MOYES live in the art community of Kayenta in southern Utah. Marilyn started making “functional art” cabinets with her husband John as a hobby. John is a master carpenter, grandson of David Huges, a famous wood carver from England. He is responsible for the wood, furniture and carvings that Marilyn paints on.

San Pasqual

St. Frances of Rome

After retiring from nursing, Marilyn began to explore painting on wood by herself. After she had requests for Frida Kahlo and the Our Lady of Guadalupe icons to be placed on John’s cabinets, Marilyn was inspirated to make retablos. She and John had been collecting Hispanic religious folk art  for many years, so were familiar with its style. Marilyn then began to add milagros (miracles) to the garments of her patron saints to add texture to the saint’s picture and carry on another tradition. In Mexico, a person may pin a milagro onto the garment of a patron saint’s image to remind the saint of the suppllicant’s special favor.

I love her subtle use of colors and also giving us unusual saints, such as St. Frances of Rome, patroness of Benedictine Oblates .
MM- St. Francis

comes from a long line of artists on her mother’s side of the family, with talents ranging from painting to ceramics and metal work. She began painting devotional art in 1995. Though she began working with acrylics, she switched to natural homemade pigments after being taught by Charlie Carrillo, a Santa Fe santero who rediscovered the techniques of the early New Mexico santeros. Ellen carves all her own wood for both retablos and bultos, and also prepares her own gesso and paints from natural materials.

Holy Family

She has won many awards for her work and has shown in many exhibitions.

Together with her husband, Mark,  she created Santos de Santistevan, a cooperative and creative partnership dedicated to creating devotional art. Their motto is, “Connecting people with their faith through art.”  She and her husband are heads of the altar servers’ ministry at their church.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Virginia Marie Romero

Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one's own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit. (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

Some of my favorite art comes from the Southwest. While the artists I present here are alive- and I pray well- their folk art tradition, dates back to the arrival of the first Roman Catholic missionaries from Spain over four centuries ago. This art is about the Catholic tradition influenced by the early priests traveling into this nearly untouched Northern regions of New Mexico.

Since New Mexico was one of the out-lying territories of the New World,  images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints (called santos), were important in helping Spanish settlers and Native American converts keep their faith in the long intervals between visits by itinerant priests.  Since the art from Spain and Mexico was rare, local artisans, who came to be known as santeros (saint-makers), developed an indigenous school of retablo panel painting which was tantamount to the devotional life of the faithful.

With the coming of the railroads in the 19th century mass-produced plaster saints and holy postcards abounded, and the art of the santeros went into decline. It was successfully revived in 1925 by  the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. Today this same organization sponsors the Spanish Colonial Market in Santa Fe every summer and winter, offering santeros a chance to display their works in juried competition. Many of the modern santeros are second and third generation saint-makers.  Lydia Garcia continues her art in the same pueblo home where she worked alongside her father.
Lydia Garcia

Traditionally santos painting are made on hand-carved panels of wood (although sometimes one can find tin used), primed with homemade gesso and using natural water-based pigments, and pinon pine sap varnish, though some modern santeros have succumbed to the use of acrylics. There are no set rules on themes or styles, but today artists tend to draw inspiration from the works of old santero masters. Santeros still work in a deeply-rooted faith tradition, talking of the inspiration they receive directly from their favorite saints.


VIRGINIA MARIA ROMERO is one of a handful of “Anglos” to be counted among the santero artists whose work is found in national and international private and museum collections.

VMR- Conception

 Virginia's art is  inspired by the culture of New Mexico and her Polish/Irish heritage.  “Romero has taken an ancient art form and redefined it, reinvented it, and made it her own.Virginia Maria Romero’s art speaks a language unlike any other…it is a language of the heart, of the soul, of life...”

CATHERINE ROBLES SHAW writes: "As a Santera,(Saint Maker) I hope to preserve some of the unique traditions of my Hispanic culture. Retablos are the story tellers of my ancestors. They are the natural extension of the beauty and simplicity of our Spanish lives. My husband, Michael, and I aspire to represent our work with as much historic accuracy as possible.

San Pascal- CRS

My art process uses the same materials that were used in the 18th and 19th centuries and each piece is one of a kind. My first exposure to this art came when, as a child, I visited the churches in the San Luis Valley where my family was among the first settlers.

Marriage of Mary & Joseph- CRS

After visiting these old churches, as an adult, I came to realize the meaning of the little retablos that had been in our family. In 1991 I began making retablos for my family and friends. I have been an artist in the Spanish Colonial Arts Society since 1995."


Not all Santera come from New Mexico. TERESA MAY DURAN is a respected Colorado santera who, like many latter-day practitioners of the art, took up ‘saint-making’ only later in life while raising a family and pursuing another career. Teresa has participated in both the Summer and Winter Spanish Markets every year.

She started to study Christian symbolism and sacred art in her spare time, especially Byzantine and Spanish Colonial art. On vacations in the American Southwest and South America, she and her husband made a point of visiting places that had examples of Spanish Colonial art as it developed in these regions; and in each of them, Teresa found new inspiration which she brought into her painting.

Her work is distinguished from that of many other santeras by her attention to symbolic detail and cultural context and by the incorporation of Byzantine iconography. In all of her art, there is a strong sense of story and her depiction of a spiritual or moral ideal.

LYDIA GARCIA  is a life-long Taos, New Mexico resident and her art reflects the remote Northern New Mexico rural atmosphere she lives in. Her work reflects the passion and depth of her cultural Hispanic heritage. She believes that life should include prayer, as well as humor and art and so she signs her finished art pieces on the back and adds a short prayer.  "No one knows that the prayers are on the back and I have always kept this a secret to myself. They seem too personal to share, as then I would have to share my feelings as well. Some things are better left unsaid... don't you agree"?  
Lydia Garcia

MRC- The Good Shepherd
MRC- Pieta
MARIE ROMERO CASH is a folk artist and writer. Her  works are featured in the collections around the world, including The Smithsonian Institution and the Vatican. She has been creating traditional religious paintings and carvings since 1975. She has written several books about New Mexican art and a memoir about growing up in Santa Fe. She says of herself: I believe most of what I see and little of what I hear. I'm a dog lover at heart".   

Her works today tend to move away from the "traditional" aspect of my art but still using the same materials.

MARY JO MADRID was born in Yonkers, NY, to an Irish father and Italian mother. She now lives in NM. with her husband Jimmy and son Nicolás. All the Madrids are accomplished santeros, showing at Spanish Market in Santa Fe in recent years.

MJM- San Pasqual

Like Thersa May Duran, she studied Russian icon painting in addition to other forms and is known for her distinctive retablos style. She makes her own gesso and piñon sap varnishes, as has been the tradition in New Mexico for centuries.

MJM- Holy Family

"We've always earned our living from working with our hands. It is the ultimate spiritual test. Making art must be combined with spirituality. When we're not making art we're raising pigeons and chickens."

Two of the saints most often portrayed in santera art are St. Pasqual (patron of the kitchen) and St. Francis. It is fun to compare these wonderful artists, each unique in her own style and passion for her art.

Virginia Marie Romero

Mary Jo Madrid

Catherine Robles Shaw

Mary Jo Madrid