Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath shares the Salesian spirituality that inspires his art

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Vibrant tones of green, blue and red shine through the stained glass Stations of the Cross in the chapel windows of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna. 

Designed a decade ago by Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales from Camden, N.J., the stained glass windows reflect a small part of the nationally known artist’s longtime relationship with the parish. Brother McGrath, best known for his bright colors and whimsical style, returned to Northern Virginia last week to reflect on art, faith and Salesian spirituality during an Oct. 27-28 retreat at St. John Neumann Church in Reston and an Oct. 29 breakfast sponsored by the Women of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Westwood Country Club in Vienna.

“It’s always a pleasure to visit these Oblate parishes and share with you our beautiful Salesian spirituality, at least how it’s come to me,” he told Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioners.   

As he flipped through the images of his work displayed on a projector, Brother McGrath talked about the Salesian way of life that inspired him to create many of the pieces. 

“You are wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God. And we just need to remind ourselves of that over and over and over again at every stage of life … God is in every human face,” he said. “And the more desperate and troubled they are, the more He is there.” 

Brother McGrath draws inspiration from people at the margins of society. Earlier this month, Catholic Relief Services and the USCCB released a video series about Catholic social teaching that included footage of him creating a painting called “Dignity of Work." He also visited Guatemala with CRS earlier this year to capture the church’s work in his paintings. 

welcome the stranger mickey oneill mcgrath

Brother Mickey McGrath's painting, "Welcome the stranger," depicts the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. COURTESY

His Christmas card from two years ago, titled “Make room in your heart,” shows Jesus, Mary and Joseph riding on a donkey. Traditional elements, such as Joseph holding a lily as a symbol of his purity, are interspersed with modern-day items, such as the beanie on the child Jesus’ head, to recall the millions of modern refugees searching for shelter — as the Holy Family once did. The message on the back reads, “May you find plenty of room in your heart and home for the Christ Child.”

Many of Brother McGrath’s creations include quotations from Pope Francis. “We need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy,” reads one image of Mary, a theme that inspired Brother Mcgrath’s Oct. 29 talk. 

In an interview, Brother McGrath said that he uses colors to show emotion and joy. “In these troubled times, I think that’s what the heart of the Christian message is,” he said. 

“I want people to know that God loves them. That there’s joy to be found beneath the anxiety.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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