Vivian Imbruglia’s icon commemorating the 100th anniversary of the apparitions and messages of Our Lady of Fatima made a cross-country trip to the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Asbury, New Jersey, to be on permanent display.
Highlighting the story of Our Lady of Fatima, this icon on birch panel is dazzling in color and size — 24 by 36 inches, shining with 24k gold and precious gems. A sacred iconographer (SacredImageIcons.com) whose icons have found homes in houses to churches and convents — including St. John Cantius Church in Chicago — Imbruglia received Providential affirmation about this icon.
While looking at three icons already in progress in her studio in Rancho Cucamonga, California, she thought, “This is 97, then 98 and 99, and the one on Fatima is going to be my 100th icon — for the 100th anniversary. God will put it where it needs to go.”
She added, “I wanted to tell the story of Fatima for someone like me who didn’t know the story.”
Imbruglia called upon Deacon Bob Ellis, national coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima, and Mike Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life, to bolster her knowledge of Fatima. They also put her in touch with Fatima authority Franciscan Father Andrew Apostoli, author of Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope.
“After I conferred with him, I had a pile of notes,” said Imbruglia.
Writing the icon, she was certain how she wanted Our Lady to look. “I began there, and then I also had an idea about the children, and hell, so I continued with that,” she recalled. “But otherwise I was stuck.” Then Father Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, affirmed the important elements of the story of Fatima to be included in the icon.
A Personal Touch
“I started praying the novena of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots,” she said. “Three days into it, I knew what to do. I didn’t have any more doubts.”
Panels within the icon highlight the story: the Angel of Fatima holding a banner proclaiming “Prayer, Reparation, Sacrifice”; the “Miracle of the Sun” with the Holy Family; the First Saturday Devotion with the Child Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the Third Secret; Servant of God Lucia dos Santos’ later “Vision of the Trinity”; the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the shepherd children; vision of hell; and the underlining banner proclaiming, “My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph!”
“One of the most difficult panels was depicting the Third Secret,” the iconographer said.
As she works, she prays for those who will see the message, so that “the sorrow in the children’s and Our Lady’s eyes will draw them into wanting to know more. That’s always my biggest prayer.”
She is pleased that her archangel icons inspire children at her parish, St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Alta Loma.
Young Catholics see the angels as superheroes.
After finishing the icon, Imbruglia then sent pictures to Deacon Ellis and Father Apostoli for their review, who “confirmed [the accuracy of] it and said this is the most important year the message needs to get out,” she explained.
“At that point, the icon was ready to go out and tell the story.”
Imbruglia donated it to the World Apostolate of Fatima Shrine, but the icon’s first stop was in Chicago in late April at the Institute on Religious Life’s national meeting on Fatima.
“It honors Almighty God, venerates Our Lady, and tells the story so important in the world today,” said Deacon Ellis of the icon.
Wick is of the same opinion. “With the Fatima centennial icon, Vivian captures Our Lady’s message in a visual form, which makes it very catechetical, but also deeply spiritual, because icons tend to be windows of the soul,” he explained.
“It’s a great way to meditate upon the importance of all the different facets of the Fatima message.” Added Wick, “The beauty is that she was able to capture so much. Truly, it is a blessed grace-filled work. “Those that see it truly appreciate it. It deepens their own faith.”
Imbruglia says the icon-writing process keeps her humble, knowing it is the Holy Spirit at work through her artistic hand. She also takes drawings before the Blessed Sacrament to pray and ask for guidance.
To her knowledge she does one thing different from other iconographers. One time, a curious gentleman watching her work on the Stations of the Cross asked her why she was doing this work. Looking heavenward, she answered, “For him.”
The stranger told her, “Then add Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (For the greater glory of God).”
Ever since, she hides “AMDG” in each icon.
“When I get this little nudge from the Holy Spirit, I know to act upon it,” Imbruglia explained of her art. For example, she began writing an icon of St. Francis a week before she was to go on a pilgrimage, stopping in Rome. Pope Francis had just been elected, and a friend told her she should write an icon of St. Francis, and “we’re going to give it to the Pope.” Imbruglia felt the Holy Spirit urging her to write it.
In Rome, when at the general audience, Imbruglia explained to a security officer, “We have an icon for the Pope.” He wanted to see the icon and then took it to a Swiss Guard, who requested a “letter” — which she came to learn meant her address. After that was passed along, the guard went off with the icon.
Upon returning home, Imbruglia received a letter from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State office thanking her on behalf of the Pope for the icon.
“That day Pope Francis talked about feeding the poor,” Imbruglia remembered of the audience. While at the audience, she held up several copies she had made of the St. Francis icon, which she brought for the Holy Father to bless. Some she would keep for future gifts.
As in prior years, she was asked by Mary’s Mercy Center in San Bernardino to donate an original icon or print for their annual fundraiser dinner. They use the funds raised to serve hot meals six days a week, stock the St. Martin de Porres Emergency Food Bag Program that gives out approximately 1,000 bags of food on the last three Wednesdays of the month, provide free dental clinics and distribute free clothing, and assist mothers in crisis with their infants’ needs.
Imbruglia donated one of the blessed inexpensive prints for the center’s fundraising auction.
“After it was sold, two other people who were trying to bid but were not seen said they too were willing to donate $5,000 for a framed print. And so I received a call that evening while I was on vacation by a very excited chairperson from the event hoping that I had more, which I did.” Her three prints raised a grand total of $15,000 for Mary’s Mercy Center.
Then a couple from Texas, a year later, had her write an icon of St. Peter Favre, which they presented to Pope Francis during a private audience.
“The Pope was actually holding one of my icons,” said Imbruglia, still happily blessed by the workings of the Holy Spirit.
“Everything trickles down to that one nudge from the Holy Spirit. When he nudges, I answer right away.”
Deacon Ellis said the Fatima icon “invites people to learn the story, and in learning the story, the message Our Lady told will unfold. They’re going to get the answers at the Blue Army (WAFUSA.org), where we have the entire story.”
Imbruglia’s own hope is that people will “come to know the story, pray the Rosary every day, read Father Apostoli’s book, and their hearts will be on fire [about Fatima].
“Maybe it will inspire people to a love of icons. That’s a hope, too.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.