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Icon for the World Meeting of Families: Meet the Artist, Neilson Carlin

Kathy Schiffer - published on 09/08/14

The pastor had been an accountant before entering the priesthood, and the deacon who taught the course had been a lawyer, so Carlin was confident that they were well prepared to address his concerns. Indeed they were: Over the year, the two answered every question he posed, chipping away at his fears and misconceptions. In April 2000, as he was preparing to marry, he was received into the Catholic Church.

Even as a Protestant, Carlin had been interested in blending his interest in faith with his career in art. He had occasionally produced religious images, but wasn’t being paid for it—hence, sacred art represented only a small part of his portfolio. Once he converted to the Catholic faith, he found that his new spiritual home was very receptive to his sacred images, and that became his primary focus.  

In 2007, his work was accepted by a Philadelphia gallery and was exhibited, along with a sculpture by an art instructor from Carlin’s college years. The two renewed their acquaintance at the exhibit opening and Carlin followed up, emailing the professor to report his conversion and to share an example of his religious art. To his surprise, the instructor responded that same evening, enthusiastic about his artwork and asking whether he’d be interested in a commission. What began as a chance encounter led to Carlin’s being introduced to then-Archbishop Burke, and eventually to his selection as one of four artists to paint sacred art for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The project turned out to be his largest project to date: Over fourteen months, Carlin executed paintings of St. Gianna Molla and Blessed Father Miguel Pro, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Peregrine Laziosi. Without a historical perspective in Catholicism, Carlin has used his art as an opportunity to learn about the heroic lives of the saints he’s painted.

He was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to create the icon of The Holy Family for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Philadelphia September 22-27, 2015. Although it’s still unconfirmed, Pope Francis is expected to attend that meeting, during what will be  the pope’s first visit to the United States.

At the painting’s September 7 unveiling, Archbishop Chaput also asked the faithful to pray the World Meeting of Families Prayer daily for the success of the Meeting and for their own intentions. The text follows:

God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us
your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.

May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek your truth and live in your love.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

Kathy Schifferis a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.  

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