Our Lady of Wichita at the SLC

The letters next to Mary are Greek abbreviations for “Mother of God.” The letters next to Jesus are the first and last letters of the Greek word for Jesus Christ. At the upper right is Greek for Immaculate Conception. The letters in Jesus’ halo represent a translation of “He who is.”

Mark Miller has dabbled in religious art since graduating from Wichita State University years ago with a degree in art education. But it wasn’t until about eight years ago, during a pilgrimage to Rome, that the Holy Spirit inspired him, or perhaps it was the patron saint of artists, Saint Catherine of Bologna, who guided him to someone who piqued his interest in iconography.

Miller, the director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Wichita, was in Rome on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, in 2011 for Archbishop Paul S. Coakley’s reception of a pallium – a symbol of an archbishop’s participation in papal authority – from Pope Benedict XVI. One evening during the pilgrimage Mark and his wife, Loretta, sat down for dinner with a couple from Lawton, Oklahoma, whom they hadn’t yet met.

“The lady said, would you like to see some of the work that I do? And it’s like, well, absolutely. And she showed me these icons that she was working on. And I knew that’s what I want to learn how to do!”

That lady was Beverly Layton, an iconographer. By August Mark was among several students invited to a workshop, a workshop focusing on the image of the Good Shepherd.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it,” he said. “As I was leaving Beverly took me up to her studio and said, ‘Let’s get you some paints because I think you’re gonna need these.’ She loaded me up with the basic paint colors and I came home and started doing some on my own.”

Mark has taken a workshop or iconography retreat every year since then. Four of those have been with Greek iconographer Theodore Papadopoulos, who taught a class last month at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita.

Iconography is “very prayerful, it’s very powerful, it’s very humbling,” he said.

Although he wielded the brushes for the icon of Our Lady of Wichita, it was Father Ken Van Haverbeke, the former director of the SLC who commission the artwork.

Father Ken Van Haverbeke, who was director of the Spiritual Life Center at the time, commissioned Miller because he had worked with the artist on three of the new Doctors of the Church icons displayed in the center’s Main Assembly Room.

“The foyer of the Spiritual Life Center has images of Mary from different cultures: Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Asian and African Madonna,” Father Van Haverbeke said. “We wanted to show Mary in the context of our diocesan culture. We entrusted our diocese into the hands of Mary by placing the diocesan cathedral in the hands of our Lord, who is being embraced by Mary.”

After sketching the icon for Father Van Haverbeke, Mark said he had writer’s block for about six months. It took him that long before he was inspired with some sketches, one of which Father Van Haverbeke really liked.

“We began working on a regular basis at that time,” he said. “Every week I was making progress and within a year after we made that decision I was able to…complete that icon.”