Various new portraits line the walls of St. Francis Xavier Church

LOWER MANHATTAN — Prior to Mass on Sunday, June 12 at 11:30 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Church, Anna Harris Jacobs spent time appreciating the 12 newly unveiled portraits of various saints and holy people that lined the walls of the church, and the new sense of welcome that came with them.

“It means a lot to me and other people of color to see us as part of our church,” Jacobs said. “He says we welcome everyone from all walks of life. The community today will probably be very different in its awareness from the universal Church.

The parish council of the church conceptualized the idea of ​​incorporating the portraits into the parish in 2020 as a way to diversify the iconography of the church to better reflect and accommodate the current parishioners who fill the pews each week.

St. Francis Xavier Church was built in the 19th century. Therefore, extant iconography reflects Irish, German, and Italian members of the congregation at this time.

Ten of the 12 portraits are mounted at eye level in the marble sections between the Stations of the Cross which are painted on the side walls of the church along the pews. The other two portraits are mounted on similar marble sections at the entrance to the church.

Are represented in the portraits Saint Josephine Bakhita, Saint Anrê Dũng-Lac, Saint Óscar Romero, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Charles Lwanga, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, Blessed Rano Maria Vattalil , Saint André Kim Tae-Gǒn, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and Venerable Pierre Toussaint.

Queens artist Patricia Brintle painted the portraits. After Sunday morning mass, she broke down in tears as she thought back to the past few months away from them and how important they have now come from her studio and inside a place of worship.

“I really did a lot of research on each saint, so to pray to them was to pray to someone I knew, and over the months I got to know them more and more, and so when it was done and that I finished was like sending my kid to college,” Brintle said.

“And then when I got here, it’s like I meet them again but all of them grow up,” she continued. “They are the same but they have a weight that they did not have before. Now they are able to do miracles for people.

The portraits are painted on wood. Brintle began the two-year process by sketching the holy people one by one with pencil on drawing paper. Then she moves on to life-size colorized versions on foam board. Then, for the final step, painted them simultaneously on the wood “for the sake of uniformity”, which is evidenced in the subtle design similarities between each.

Brintle credits her Catholic faith for guiding her through the project. She said she prayed a similar prayer at the start of each session. In the case of Saint Josephine Bakhita in particular, it was not until Brintle directly prayed to the Native American saint with a Native American prayer that she obtained the perfect features.

“It was God working. I was just an instrument,” Brintle said.

The portraits were blessed after communion at each of the weekend masses at St. Francis Xavier Church. Subsequently, the parish incorporated each of the saints into a litany of saints, where each name was spoken followed by the words “pray for us”.

Father Ricardo da Silva, the celebrant of Sunday morning Mass, also incorporated the 12 holy people into his homily, saying, “their examples of virtue and courage should not be forgotten.

“May we, inspired by their example, respond in unity of love and peace as a global Catholic Church, as a community of St. Francis Xavier Church, as families of different configurations and as as distinct individual people called to make God real in the world,” he said.

There was a reception after Mass for parishioners to meet Brintle. The tablet spoke to her there, as parishioners continually chimed in on the conversation with words of appreciation and admiration for how the project came out. She even accompanied two Filipino parishioners in her process of rejuvenating Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, the patron saint of migrants, the Philippines and the Filipino people.

“It’s very, very humbling,” Brintle said of those moments.

Phil Gutierrez, a parishioner and member of the church’s art committee, said at the reception that he also walked through the church that morning and spent time with each portrait. He called the experience moving and noted that the placement of the portraits between stations of the cross, among the congregation, “models this walk on the walk of Jesus which is truly inspiring”.

“Discovering all the portraits of these holy people surrounding the congregation gave me the experience that I was hoping for, that these holy people are surrounding us, that they are among us, that they pray with us and for us,” said Gutierrez said.

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