Ministering and beautifying through art

from Spring 2018 Edition

St. Anthony and the Donkey. Designed by Fr. Joseph Dorniak, OFM Conv., this statue, depicting the power of faith, greets visitors to the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Most of our passions and talents are rooted in the experiences of our childhood. This is certainly the case for Fr. Joseph Dorniak, OFM Conv., who has graced many of the facilities at which he has lived and ministered during nearly 50 years as a Conventual Franciscan Friar with stunning original works of art. This art has included drawings, paintings, murals, statues and more.

Fr. Joe, who is currently a pastor at a Franciscan parish in Dublin, Ireland, discovered his passion for art during the rainy days of his childhood, sitting at the kitchen table with his father in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“When I was a child, my father and I would sit at the kitchen table and he’d teach me how to draw ducks in water, with the curly waves,” said Fr. Joe. “That was the extent to which my father could go, but I went on to draw trees and clouds and I have been drawing and decorating ever since, but I always attribute it to my dad, on rainy days to start my artistic talent.”

The master at work. Above, Fr. Joe toils on a scaffold to paint a mural gracing the sanctuary of the chapel at the Shrine of St. Anthony, with the finished work in the inset box.

As a boy, Fr. Joe attended St. Michael’s parish, run by the Conventual Friars, in Bridgeport. In elementary school he was taught by Franciscan nuns from Hamburg and he watched with fascination as an old factory, right across the street from his high school, was transformed into a Franciscan high school, St. Maximilian Kolbe High School. It was only natural that he matriculated to the new school and this is where he first began to consider life as a friar.

A mural, painted by Fr. Joe at St. Mary’s Above Rock’s Mission in Jamaica.

“Watching the Friars, especially in high school, teaching, they seemed to get along together and they seemed to be happy,” said Fr. Joe. “I thought it would be a good fit for me and so far, it has fit.”

Fr. Joe, who considers himself an “environmental” artist who has created works of art designed to beautify and enhance the places where they reside, entered the Franciscan novitiate in 1969.

“You know what you love and I love nature,” he revealed. “I love everything about life, so I like to reproduce it, if it needs to be reproduced for some reason. It is not difficult to put it on paper or put it in paint for me. I really think about the things I am painting, as I see them and experience them.”

Fr. Joe’s thought process can be revealed as he discusses one of his more recent works, the design for a statue of St. Anthony and a donkey, gracing the grounds of the St. Anthony Shrine in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Fr. Joe designed this open air Shrine to St. Maximilian Kolbe, on the grounds of the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, MD.

“Anthony is holding our Lord in the monstrance and the wind is blowing against it,” explained Fr. Joe. “Even the donkey’s tail is blowing in the wind. Yet, even with that opposition and that doubt, that cynicism of the wind, he (the donkey) bows down. It was my hope and it is hard to believe today, it’s always hard to believe, that the statue would say, despite the doubts, even a simple, humble animal like a donkey could believe.”

Fr. Joe believes he has left at least one piece of art in nearly every place he has lived or worked during his Franciscan journey.

“I think every place I was stationed as a friar, I left something decorative, whether in the church or in the friary. Throughout the seminary, I designed a lot of our friars’ first Mass holy cards or designed chalices, painted murals at different schools where I taught. When I was in the missions, I painted murals in our churches. It was fun doing that because I liked to see people react to them. Most of them were rather favorable and they liked their church looking decorative. A lot of times I would do things after learning I had been re-stationed. I would paint something, as a memento of me or a thank you for them.”

One of several stunning murals painted by Fr. Joe at St. Francis Parish in Athol Springs, NY.

Although he believes his work may assist some in their relationship with God, Fr. Joe does not believe he is part of that conversation.

“I know God is with me when I am doing this. In a minor way I think I assist, but I love to step out of the way and let them have a relationship with whatever it is I created. It is none of my business what God wants to say to them through my work.”

At his current parish in Dublin, Fr. Joe is contemplating what he may create for a new social center which is being built. In addition, he is planning a garden.

“I love gardening. I would consider myself a gardener before an artist.”

Whether it be through gardening or his art, Fr. Joe’s work beautifies its surrounding environment, creating focal points for worship and reflection –a lasting gift and legacy. †


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4 thoughts on “Ministering and beautifying through art

  1. ‘Uncle Joe’ is what we at Ankaful village, Ghana, used to affectionately call you. You were so kind with us. You gave those of us from poor background hope. Hope that did not only come in words but also in deeds. I’m what I’m today because of the hope you gave me. It will be a great desire of mine to meet you.

    Samuel Kojo Antobam

  2. Father Joe…..I just have to tell you how much Mel and I appreciate all your talent you share with us here at St. Mark Church. The Christmas decorations and the Manger were outstanding. Not only were they a beautiful work of art they were a glimpse of Heaven at all the Masses during Christmas time. God Bless you………..Mary Ann and Mel Hoffman

  3. I met Fr. Joe In Upstate NY. He celebrated Mass at the Hermitige. Such a Holy place. Fr. Joe was so kind to my husband Louis Colavito, who passed away. Those were happy prayerful times for me and Louis. A wonderful, kind, gentle and most kind man, is how I would describe Fr. Joe.

  4. Father Joe………You are such an Amazing, talented, Artist. I love your work, and sooo
    happy that we have you here at St. Mark……God Bless. ……Rae Tabano ❤️🙏🏻

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