Chapel icon mural marries art and prayer for adorers

The heart of St. Mary Parish in Littleton—an adoration chapel open 24 hours, seven days a week— is beating a little stronger with a new spiritual mural celebrating the holy Eucharist.

Pastor Alvaro Montero, D.C.J.M., said the parish’s adoration chapel is a vital organ for the parish because at least two parishioners are in active prayer around the clock. The new mural will aid in the visualization of Jesus and the Eucharist, he said.

“If I am called out at 3 a.m. I know people are in the chapel praying,” Father Montero said. “It is a good reminder that I am not alone.”

The prayerful can now gaze upon a 132-square-foot mural completed in three weeks by Romanian icon painter Brother Ioan Patriciu Gotia. Brother Ioan has a doctorate in ecclesiastical sciences from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome where he specialized in Byzantine iconography. His icons and icon murals grace churches and chapels in Italy, Spain, Austria and Romania and have been used for book illustrations and book covers.

The mural at St. Mary’s chapel is Brother Ioan’s first icon produced in the United States. It decorates an area on the chapel’s front and curved walls. The mural depicts the Last Supper, disciples Peter, John and James, and the Blessed Mother. A quote above Mary, “Do Whatever He Tells You,” refers to the wedding at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine.

“Icons are the best combination of art and religion,” Brother Ioan said. “Art and prayer go together, whether that is painting, sculpture or church music. They all draw us to our Lord.”

Father Montero recruited Brother Ioan for the work because both men are members of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The religious order, based in Madrid, Spain, and started at St. Mary’s in 2007 under then-Archbishop Charles Chaput, emphasizes family and youth ministry and strong Catholic education from elementary through university.

The order serves only one other U.S. parish, which is in Virginia.

Brother Ioan traveled from Europe to St. Mary’s, one of the archdiocese’s largest parishes with 2,400 families and about 500 students in its elementary through eighth-grade school.

The chapel was added during a renovation in 1999-2000 and shares a wall with the main church. That configuration caused an unexpected snag in Brother Ioan’s work.

Vibrations from the church’s organ caused his first icons to crack. He had to remove the paintings and with the help of an architect strategically place new sheet rock that resists the vibrations.

“It is so important to be aware that this work was not one man but the work of a team,” Brother Ioan said. “Not everyone can paint, but they took part through prepping the walls and support through prayer.”

The project received input from the parish council, other members of the Disciples and parish staff, Father Montero said. But perhaps the greatest influence came from Brother Ioan’s mother, Maria Manuela, an icon lover who lives in Romania and reviewed updated photographs of the mural emailed to her daily by her son.

“She was merciful and truthful,” Father Montero said.

Father Montero admires Brother Ioan’s family for surviving religious persecution under Communist rule in Romania from 1948-1989. His grandfather, a practicing Catholic, was arrested in 1948 when his grandmother was pregnant with Brother Ioan’s mother. She did not meet her father until she was 7 and visited him in prison.

“She was able to kiss him for the first time, but it was through the prison bars,” Brother Ioan said.

His grandfather spent 17 years in that prison because of his faith. When it is suggested his grandfather would be proud of his icon work, Brother Ioan quickly responds: “I am the one who is proud of him.”

The adoration chapel was closed during the work but the 24-hour prayer continued near the main church. The mural was first revealed to parish council and staff, followed by a larger showing to the congregation on Dec. 14 when the chapel officially reopened.

Brother Ioan had to return to Spain a few days before the big reveal.  He has two large icon projects next year in Austria and Spain.

The chapel is open to the public and the parish uses a sign-up sheet as a practical way to ensure someone is there at all hours to provide entry and maintain safety. Father Montero welcomes all Christians who believe in the Eucharist to visit. For more information, visit:




COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash