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Franciscan Renaissance, a group inspired by newly ordained Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Father Paulus Tautz and headed by Michael and Wendy McNeill in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
“It is time to return to that fruitful alliance between the
Church and artists which has deeply marked the path of Christianity in the two
millenniums. This presumes your ability, dear Christian artists, to live
profoundly the reality of your Christian faith, so that it will give birth to
culture and offer the world new ‘Epiphanies’ of the divine beauty reflected in creation.”
So said John Paul II in his year 2000 Address for the
Jubilee Celebration of Artists.
The great Pope’s directive is the keynote for the artists of
Franciscan Renaissance, a group inspired by newly ordained Father Paulus Tautz
of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and headed by Michael and Wendy McNeill
in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
The McNeills happen to be third-order secular Franciscans
and regularly help the Friars of the Renewal with hands-on work with the poor.
The goal at the heart of this small group of artists? “To
help rebuild a culture of life,” says sculptor Michael McNeill. The major means
is through creating sacred art and making it available through their website,
Father Tautz, who’s also a sculptor and who designed the new
chapel being built for Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.,
got the idea for this artists group four years ago while at a retreat center
that also has a liturgical arts school. Artists he knew were all practicing
Catholics, many doing daily holy hours, but he became aware that one thing was
“I realized what is needed oftentimes is encouragement,” he
says. The Franciscan Renaissance group formed three years ago to meet
informally every couple of months for dinner and prayer at the McNeills’ or at
Rosalyn School of Art in Roslyn, N.Y., plus attend a summer retreat together at
“We needed to connect spiritually,” Wendy says. According to
her, encouraging each other and staying spiritually close are two things Father
Tautz pushed because their faith would affect their work.
Their work they hope to bring to the public now on a broader
scale as the website grows and as committed Catholic artists join them.
Already on the site are works like the “Holy Name of Jesus”
plaque inspired by the Friars of the Renewal and done by Father Tautz,
Michael’s relief of the Divine Mercy and Wendy McNeill’s oil painting called
the “Heart of Mary.”
For the past two years the Divine Mercy relief has been sold
at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. Michael can even
do the casting because he also works for a foundry specializing in artists’
sculptures. In fact, he does the casting, patina coloring and shipping of the
Holy Name plaque.
The New Evangelization underlies every step, right down to
the Divine Mercy relief on the McNeills’ own front lawn. Says Michael, “I
notice people walk by and make the Sign of the Cross in front of the image.
That’s a total fulfillment for me for all the work that’s done to produce it.”
As for Wendy’s “Heart of Mary” oil painting, it is the icon
for an upcoming pro-life tour (futuredependsonlove.com) from Philadelphia to
Washington, D.C., Aug. 3-11.
Newly ordained Father Lawrence Schroedel, also of the
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the organizer of the tour, chose Wendy’s
painting of “Heart of Mary” for the official prayer card. It will also be the
tour’s banner display.
He sees the image as a symbol of the triumph of the
Immaculate Heart that’s going to happen for families and marriage. Printed on
postcards with the prayer used for the consecration of our country to Our Lady
on Nov. 11, 2006, he believes the picture will raise awareness of the tour’s
focus on the family, marriage and life issues.
“It can accomplish two purposes: to pray for our country as
a family and to spread good Catholic art through the mail,” says Father
“This is a great way to evangelize with art,” explains
Michael of the overall purpose of this painting and other Franciscan Renaissance
artworks. “This is for devotional purposes. We want our art to promote the
glory of God, not the glory of the artist.”
Group members like Charles Pasqualina concur. He remembers
that, as major changes were taking place in church art and architecture a generation
ago, “a local young priest said that you can preach anything you want from the
pulpit, but the artwork will be preaching something else — and the art and
artifacts will always win out. They speak very profoundly. I think we have to
speak profoundly again.”
Charles and his wife Lydia are not only members of
Franciscan Renaissance but also teach art at the Roslyn School of Painting in
Roslyn, which is on Long Island. The McNeills met as teenagers when both were
taking lessons from the Pasqualinas. Michael and Wendy later graduated from
college with art degrees and married.
Charles Pasqualina, who has painted portraits of John Paul
II and recently Cardinal John O’Connor, and who teaches art to some Sisters of
Life, describes the McNeills’ works as “prayers.”
“I hope that it will be viewed as a prayer by other people,”
says Wendy, “because I intend to praise God with the work to reveal some
spiritual truth with it. I want it to touch the heart of somebody even in some
small way, in some way to reveal love, service, to love, to serve, and to adore
Naturally, one goal for these artists is to have church
commissions. Michael would like to do a life-sized Divine Mercy statue. Because
many people can’t afford large original works, goals include versions
affordable to the average Catholic like a smaller tabletop Divine Mercy statue,
Holy Name of Jesus medallions for over doorways, and prints of Wendy’s painting
of Mary now being readied.
At the same time, some of the sale proceeds go to the
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal’s hands-on work with the poor, such as at the
Padre Pio and the St. Anthony Shelters in the South Bronx. For the
friar-artists like Father Tautz and hopefully other friars to come, all
proceeds will go to their work with the poor.
So it is that Franciscan Renaissance looks to bring about
John Paul II’s Jubilee vision for a new artistic springtime in the Church.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.