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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
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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