Bishop unveils artwork depicting Holy Family, commemorating diocese’s jubilee
Artwork commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the Diocese of Phoenix poignantly reflects the intercession of the Holy Family for the domestic Church.
The depiction of the deep, generous love of the Holy Family intimately bound by the Holy Trinity is a reminder of the importance of family and recognizes that role as the family of God on earth.
The unveiling and blessing of the liturgical art by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Aug. 22 at St. Gregory Parish, drew immediate applause and adulation.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Jessica Gilliland, in attendance with her four children and husband, Dcn. Andrew. “It’s beautiful. I love the strong masculinity of St. Joseph and the meekness and mildness of Mary. Our family has a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe … and it’s something that I would want in my home.”
Artist Ruth Stricklin of Phoenix-based New Jerusalem Studios was inspired by the historic Spanish colonial art of the region, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe, and strived to capture the patroness of the diocese through color, form and detail of the paint.
“As an artist, I am honored and humbled by his commission,” she said. “It was daunting — wondering how can I represent all the bodies and souls in the diocese — a diocese that has been a beautiful, loving family that embraces us.”
Stricklin said she was also “very influenced” by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s apostolic exhortations on the family — “Complete My Joy” — and Catholic masculinity — “Into the Breach” — as she sketched the design. That initial sketch featured as the cover art for “Complete My Joy.”
Now in full color, the striking Fleur de Lis on the inner tunic worn by St. Joseph is Mary’s flower, and his cloak is stylized with symbols of his lineage, the lion’s head for the Tribe of Judah.
One subtle yet profound difference in the portrait of St. Joseph is that he is holding the Christ Child and not Mary, which is so often depicted by artists.
“This is symbolic of Joseph as the protector of Mary, the family and the Church,” Stricklin said. “I knew I wanted to show St. Joseph as a strong, present father and really show his masculinity, which is sometimes missing. I enjoyed working on him and Mary, with her softness and feminine beauty. They are so different, yet perfectly complimentary. There is space for each, in each of their roles, without the threat of one overshadowing the other. I love meditating on that.”
Stricklin has intimate knowledge of how sacred art evangelizes through beauty for an encounter with Christ.
Originally from North Pole, Alaska, she was raised as an evangelical Christian, but when she was contacted to paint a large mural in 2008 at Xavier College Preparatory, it exposed her to the rich tradition of Catholic art and led her to a “deep and radical conversion of faith.”
In 2010, Stricklin was received into full communion with the Catholic Church in front of 1,200 Xavier students. Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, BVM, former principal and now its first president, sponsored her.
In the time since she discovered her vocation as a sacred artist, she has spoken to various audiences on beauty — in image and in action —as the strongest tool for evangelization.
Bishop Olmsted couldn’t agree more. In his opening statements, he called Our Lady of Guadalupe “the most successful servant of evangelization” following her appearance to Juan Diego that resulted in 9 to 10 million Indians becoming followers of Christ.
The imprint of Mary’s image upon Juan Diego’s tunic wasn’t an artist’s rendering or painted from imagination.
“Her image was given to us by Mary herself,” Bishop Olmsted said. “Sacred art can change hearts and inspire souls.”
Because of the diocese’s great love of Mary, for her complete trust in the Word of God through her fiat, the bishop said the painting of the Holy Family is “perfect” because “the future of our diocese depends on the degree we have healthy families.”
“To be successful in our mission to follow Jesus Christ, we need to love,” as exemplified by the Holy Family.
The large painting will be used for public veneration throughout the diocese and displayed at the Diocesan Pastoral Center when not in use.
“I relied heavily on prayer as I worked on this piece, and my hope is simply that the Holy Spirit will be present to people as they interact with this work in whatever way they most need,” Stricklin said. “The reason I make art is ultimately to reveal God to the world, as Christ did, to show His incomprehensible love for us. Beauty doesn’t leave us where we are. When we have a true encounter with beauty, it calls us higher, calls us to be more. That is my hope for this painting. It’s a lofty goal, but that’s precisely what sacred art is for.”
Ruth and her husband, Geoffrey, founded their studio in 2014 in response to a growing commitment to “authentic liturgical renewal.”
Their mission of “evangelization through beauty” has allowed them to produce works also featured at All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe, St. Mary’s High School, Sacred Heart Church and in other states throughout the country.
Prints of the Holy Family are currently available by request through their website at njerusalemstudios.com.