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Painting as a Prayer

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St. Joseph’s example of faith, humility and courage has inspired local artist Holly Schapker to share her talents to create images of the saint during this Year of St. Joseph.

Schapker, whose studio is in a renovated 140-year-old building in Over-the-Rhine, is a 1992 graduate of Xavier University’s art program. Her painting and research have taken her around the world, and her work can be found at universities, churches, schools and in numerous corporate and private collections. She has been painting representational art of Catholic icons for more than 10 years and has a special devotion to the Blessed Mother. Schapker was commissioned to paint series of paintings for Xavier University in 2011, and her painting of Pope Francis’ mother was presented to the pontiff at the Vatican in 2011.

“For me, painting is prayer,” she said. “I try to honor God through my paintings.

Two area parishes – Our Lord Christ the King in Mt. Lookout, and St. Cecilia in Oakley – commissioned works by Schapker, unveiling them in time for the feast of St. Joseph in March.


A parishioner at Christ the King, Schapker recalls leaving an early-morning Mass and stopping to gaze up at statue of St. Joseph in the back of church. Fellow parishioner Steve Green noticed her focus on the statue and recommended Schapker read, Consecration of St. Joseph by Donald Galloway. Meanwhile, Karen Dorger, another parishioner who was familiar with Schapker’s talent, approached Father Ed Smith, pastor, about the parish’s plan to honor St. Joseph.

The result was an oil painting of the Holy Family, which was unveiled and blessed by Father Smith on March 20. Each member of the congregation present received a card with an image of the painting and a prayer written by Father Smith for the occasion. The piece depicts Joseph and Mary presenting the Christ child at the Temple, and “also to us in the here and now,” Schapker said. “My goal is to show how relatable the Holy Family is and that they truly understand us with loving care. Mary and Joseph are inviting each and every one of us into the Holy Family.”

Father Smith praised the artwork, which is now permanently installed in parish’s Atrium gathering space. “This wonderful family portrait inspires us to work every day to live as the family God has called us to be in our homes, in our community, in our world, and, in a special way, in our parish dedicated to Christ the King, who was himself a member of a family on earth, with Mary and Joseph, and who is eternally a member of a family in heaven, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,” he said.


At neighboring St. Cecilia Parish, Father Jacob Willig, parochial vicar of the East Side Region, said it was an encounter with Schapker after Mass last December that prompted him to commission an image of St. Joseph for a holy card. His vision of the image, Father Willig explained, was based on a statue of the saint at St. Cecilia, depicting him as “modern, normal, relatable guy, but more mid-Eastern and authentic.”

Schapker’s portrait of St. Joseph with Lilies, featuring him with a young Jesus, was used for the holy card.

“His Eyes are an invitation to be embraced by them and receive his fatherly protection and guidance,” she explained. “St. Joseph exemplifies the qualities of silence (listener), strength, faith and action. The white lilies symbolize his chaste white purity, while being married to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His hands are not smooth, referencing his workmanship and ability to successfully battle any demon.”

Eight hundred holy cards, with the Litany of St. Joseph printed on the back, were delivered to St. Cecilia just in time for his feast day. “Holly did a beautiful job on the holy cards,” Father Willig said.“The beauty of the card reminds us that he’s relatable, someone we can pray to, an intercessor, a loving father, a protector, someone to help us experience God’s compassion, a normal, imperfect person who leads us to Christ and opens our hearts and minds to Him.”

As for Schapker, the artist said she has found herself drawing closer to St. Joseph and looking to him for inspiration as she works. “When I think of St. Joseph as a carpenter, I think of him as a fellow artist with a creative spirit,” she said. “He’s known to be more of a doer than a talker. He’s there in the Bible, speaking to us through his actions. As an artist, that’s something I can relate to. When I work with my hands, I ask him to guide me as I create, confident that just as the Holy Spirit guided him in his work, he will be an intercessor for me with the Holy Spirit.”

This article appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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