July 10, 2024 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

(Left image) Pictured is a section from a decorated doorway, depicting Marian imagery, by Andrew Wilson Smith and created for Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma (representing the western route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage). COURTESY OF ANDREW WILSON SMITH | (Right image) A painting for Our Lady of Champion Shrine in Wisconsin by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, of the mid-1800s apparition of Our Lady to Adele Brise (representing the northern route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage). COURTESY OF GWYNETH THOMPSON-BRIGGS

Something we can pray with

Seminarian seeks to support Catholic artists with Eucharistic Congress display

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

Sacred art is not only “a piece of us and our culture,” but also “something we pray with; it’s in our homes,” says Owensboro diocese seminarian Hunter Dickens, who is designing an art display for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis later this month.

“I took the four directions of the (National Eucharistic Pilgrimage) routes, and took the idea in designing the art of the northern, southern, eastern, and western corners of the United States,” said Dickens, who participated in the Pilgrimage when it came to the Diocese of Owensboro from June 30-July 3.

Dickens, whose home parish is St. Thomas More in Paducah, has an extensive background in liturgical and sacred art.

He encountered sacred art when studying engineering for his undergraduate, and over time learned more about the artistic and theological purposes of sacred art. He worked in the liturgical art scene for a few years – including consultation work and supporting sacred artists – before discerning a call to the diocesan priesthood.

When Dickens learned about the Congress, he contacted Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the chairman of the National Eucharistic Congress, “to see if there was anything I could do to help,” said Dickens.

He said Bishop Cozzens was “really receptive and helpful,” to Dickens’ idea of an art display at the Congress.

Art was then commissioned by the Congress to initially be displayed during the July 17-21 celebrations, with the plan that the pieces would be moved to their new permanent homes afterwards.

The display includes a painting for Our Lady of Champion Shrine in Wisconsin by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, of the mid-1800s apparition of Our Lady to Adele Brise (representing the northern route); a painting of St. Monica for St. Monica Parish in Beaver Falls, Pa., by Ann Schmalstieg-Barrett (representing the eastern route); and scale models from a section of a decorated doorway, depicting Marian imagery, by Andrew Wilson Smith and created for Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma (representing the western route).

And to represent the southern route, as a nod to his home diocese, Dickens plans to include a rendering of a stained-glass window to be made for Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs, Ky., which is currently being rebuilt after historic tornadoes destroyed it in 2021.

“I have worked in lots of Catholic art initiatives,” said Dickens, “And I try to support Catholic artists at the local level.”

This grew into his creating catholicartistsdirectory.com, which features an option to connect people with Catholic artists and even explore opportunities for commissions with these artists.

Dickens said a goal of that is to take art from being seen as mere museum pieces, “and putting it back in the lives of the people,” said Dickens. He said he wants to “help people see how to commission art again.”

“There’s a human artist at the other end of this,” he said. “Seeing the work of their hands, and realizing that they have a family to support too,” enhances the connection between artist and those viewing their art.

Dickens hopes that Congress attendees who see the art display will recognize this, and maybe even consider supporting real-life, local Catholic artists.

“God attracts us through the beautiful,” he said. “And this can start to reconnect our culture – and everything we do – to God.”

To learn about commissioning art through the Catholic Artists Directory, visit https://catholicartistsdirectory.com/commissions.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
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