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Brushstroke Prayers

Progression of Fr. Reed's latest icon "Soul of Mary"

Brushstroke Prayers - Fr. Reed Mungovan, SDS

Sitting in an Eastern Catholic Church in San Francisco, CA roughly 20 years ago, Fr. Reed Mungovan, SDS, became enthralled with the small icons displayed throughout the tiny church. There were many icons in the church that day and it fevered his love of these little paintings. “I love them,” he said. “One summer around that time, I painted my own icon using a book to guide me.” It was the beginning of something special and spiritual for Fr. Reed.

He titled it “Mother of Tenderness,” an icon of Mary and Jesus. It took him several weeks to create it. “I felt very grateful to God for having painted my first icon and yet I was longing to learn from someone else,” he said. “It felt like something was missing, I did not paint another icon until my first retreat in summer 2011 hosted by an iconographer from Pennsylvania, Phil Zimmerman.”

Fr. Reed wanted to focus more fully on the creation of the artwork. So, with 12 guided icons in his collection, it has become his annual retreat. The first retreat Fr. Reed attended was an intense experience. Not only was he learning a new way of painting, but the subject matter was complex. The icon to be painted was of St. Luke painting his own icon of Jesus and Mary. “It was like painting an icon within an icon,” he said.

It takes five full seven-hour days to paint a single icon. Each day begins with group prayer, and participants continue to pray throughout the day. “I love being on a retreat and focusing on a single holy image for an entire week,” he said. “These paintings are for me widows into heaven. We often proclaim the good news of Jesus with words. Painting icons remind me that we can also proclaim this with images.”

Icons, which are religious works of art, are considered an important part of religious devotion. Creating an icon is very involved. Traditionally they are painted on a wooden canvas and require applications to prevent cracking, special base paints, and techniques to create halo effects and natural minerals to enhance colors and details. Each section of an icon has a base coat of paint. Then, lighter colors are added to each base coat throughout the week. “This reminds me that Christ is my light and that he came to bring light to my darkness and the darkness of the world,” he said. “Each brushstroke can be a prayer.”  During his most recent retreat hosted at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, WI he painted “The Soul of Mary.”

Our founder, Blessed Francis Jordan, used many ways and means to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all. “When I work on an icon, I grow closer to the saint that I am painting and can experience salvation by painting it,” said Fr. Reed. “It is a real blessing for me to encounter the Holy One by painting an icon, and it is a gift to be able to share the images with people. I can evangelize by sharing my icons with others. I consider it a fruit of my retreat.”

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