Catholic Cartoonist Puts Down His Pen to Discern Call to Become a Norbertine Father
Pat Cross’ political and pro-life drawing gives way to community life.
Patrick Cross has gained momentum in recent years with cartoons illustrating his love of country, but he’s setting aside cartooning for his first love, Christ, as he discerns priesthood with a community of Norbertine Fathers in Southern California.
For the past seven years, Cross’ cartoons, which are political, reverent, humorous — and sometimes all of the above — have appeared in publications including the Register, National Review, Catholic Vote and TheCollegeFix.com, and on social media.
Cross, 30, grew up with his four siblings in a devout Catholic home-schooling family in Ohio and Massachusetts. He attended Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, where he met Norbertine Fathers from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. In August, Cross entered the abbey as a postulant.
In this interview with the Register, he talks about responding to a religious call that has meant putting his political cartoons on hold, but not his love of America and drawing.
Can you share about how you developed your interest in drawing?
I was about 5 or 6. My mom went to art school, so she showed me some tricks of the trade, and I was always much better at drawing than reading or writing. I did a lot of it as a boy. I would look at the encyclopedia pictures, and my brother would actually read the encyclopedia. He was the smart one. I was the one who drew pictures.
I read that, early on, you copied sacred artworks and also read the Far Side cartoons. What appealed to you in those very different art forms?
I loved sacred art, especially in high school, and I would definitely copy it. I had a book of Michelangelo, and I would copy the Sistine Chapel particularly. And definitely I loved the Far Side, and I loved Calvin and Hobbes. I still love both of them.
The best art, in my opinion, is generally sacred art. If you want to learn the anatomy, you have to look at and copy the greats. In my cartoons, I try to make them pleasing to look at. Sometimes they were good, and sometimes they weren’t. I hope I got better as time went on. Cartoons, they’re supposed to be kind of ridiculous, but you also want people to actually want to look at them.
How did your family’s faith life inspire your interest in sacred art?
The Catholic faith was always the center of our household growing up. My parents always taught us that your first duty is to worship God. When you have parents who live the faith genuinely, that just bleeds into, hopefully, the life of the family. I think it’s just kind of natural for somebody who’s interested in art, who’s in a good Catholic family, to really want to express the truths of the faith through the gifts God gave them — which, for me, was art.
How did you move from doing sacred art into drawing politically related cartoons?
I do think that the welfare of the country is intimately tied to the welfare of the Church. Obviously, the Church is the most important, and it’s what will endure. The United States will come and go. I think very much because of the piety that my parents instilled in me, and I still have for the country, I think the Church teaches you to love where God has put you. [Cross referenced Jeremiah 29:7.] We’re all pilgrims, and God has sent us into this land. We’re all trying to get home, but he wants us to pray for the welfare of the land he sent us to, and he sent us to America.
My parents, especially towards the end of high school and while I was in college, said, “You should do some political cartoons.” I really didn’t do many cartoons in college. I had started following one political cartoonist, Michael Ramirez, and I was able to meet him at the end of college. I saw what he did, and I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.”
After that, I graduated from college, and I started a blog. I think the first place that really started regularly taking my cartoons was Catholic Vote. After that, it was just a slow process of developing relationships with editors.
Has it sometimes been necessary to criticize the country you love?
I think Christian love speaks truth always. I can’t put it into words how much I love this country, but when things happen in the country that are clearly bad, I think it is incumbent on somebody who loves that country to tell the country that or to speak to it. Especially, for example, with the “LGBTQ” issues or “gay marriage” or abortion, you want to direct your country in a Godly manner. That’s part of love.
What have you most enjoyed about political cartooning, and how do think you’ve made a difference?
Drawing a great political cartoon when you know you have something good, and it resonates.
When it does really well and “catches fire,” that’s exciting, obviously. When you communicate a truth you don’t think has been communicated any other way because images are different than words, that’s exciting.
When I decided to enter religious life, lots of people reached out and told me they loved my work. I think it made a difference. I hope my cartoons communicate truth; that’s the most important thing, and I think they did that — [though] imperfectly.
I wanted people to not be discouraged. I think [Christians] feel like they’re alone, and seeing a cartoon that says the things that you know are true, but you don’t see other people saying, it makes you realize you can still see truth and “I’m not alone.”
Can you give an example?
A cartoon on marriage published in the Register in July shows an image of a jet plane with wings on either side of the body labeled “man” and “woman.” A second image shows a plane with its two wings on the same side of the body, which are both labeled “man.”
That cartoon was picked up online, and it went viral because someone with a big following who didn’t like it posted it on Twitter. It made people very, very angry because, right now, the whole issue of gay marriage is kind of a third rail [avoided topic], even in conservative circles.
There was a lot of pushback, but you know you’re speaking the truth when people go after you.
When did you start sensing you might be called to priesthood?
A priest friend, my spiritual director, started encouraging me to consider it in 2019. I didn’t think when I was 5 years old, “I want to be a priest.” It wasn’t like that. I started looking in different places, and I dragged my feet because it’s hard to decide to enter formation.
What made you consider religious life with the Norbertine Fathers?
I looked [for] the support of a community religious life, the idea of living in community, experiencing the common good of that community and worshipping Christ together.
For me, I really look to the community life. [Some of the Norbertines] from St. Michael’s Abbey are priests who run parishes or teach, but the focus and the center of life is liturgy.
I knew about [the Norbertines] well before I was seriously considering them, by reputation through [Father Hildebrand Garceau, chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College while Cross was a student, and Father Sebastian Walsh, both alumni of the college]. Then one of my very good college friends entered about a year after graduation. I would visit him and St. Michael’s Abbey.
There’s an incredibly strong community life here, based on prayer and liturgy. They do the Liturgy of the Hours; they say a beautiful Mass. There’s just so much beauty in the life that’s lived here and just the witness of the priests and the men in formation. I visited other orders, as well.
What are your hopes for priestly ministry, if you are ultimately called to it? Do you think you will have opportunities to draw?
I don’t think I’ve drawn my last cartoon. I’m taking a break from it in its current form. The main thing, of course, is just learning to bring the sacraments to the faithful. That’s huge. And communicating the truths of the Church in a way that is helpful.
It’s definitely hard letting go in the current way I was using those skills, to do several cartoons a week. I don’t know what future cartoons would be like, but I suspect I’ll probably do more in the future. It could definitely be different, but I think if God wants it to happen, it will.