Priestly scarfs for Father Michael

Newly ordained priests, 2019. Photo by Alessandra Tarantino, AP

"The main attraction"

Father Michael was a patron of the Italian Village Restaurant -he enjoyed good food. I had been hired by owner Mike Santos to paint a mural inside the restaurant: -"the Comune di Venezia" (see The Italian Village Restaurant Comune di Venezia Mural in the Murals page). I had been working on the mural during lunch hour so the place was packed. Mike thought of me as "his main attraction" since patrons kept coming day after day to see me paint. One day a gentleman got up from the table, came over for a closer look, and introduced himself. The gentleman with the warm smile was Father Michael -and I liked him immediately.


The Comune di Venezia Mural, detail. 2002. The Italian Village Restaurant, Strongsville, Ohio. Artist's Acrylics on plaster wall.

If I were to cast a daytime soap opera and needed a hunky priest, I would have signed him up. We exchanged casual greetings and talked for a while about the mural. Then he asked me to do a job a for him: He wanted the symbols of his Order painted on four stoles. At first, I had no idea of what he was talking about. I have been at St. Peter's in Rome for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and blessed by Pope John Paul II, but I was not a Catholic (I grew up Pentecostal but followed no religion), nor did I have any real clue about the traditions of the Catholic church. But after some elaboration, I understood what we were talking about.


Father Michael's church: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on Cleveland's West Side.

It so happened that Father Michael was going to be officiating at a ceremony were young novices (I think that's how they are called, I could be wrong) were ordained as priests. He explained that during the ceremony the novices have a type of linen 'scarf' with the symbols of their particular priestly orders painted at the ends. These scarfs -which, incidentally, were made by nuns and called "stoles", were given to the mothers of the new priests as keepsakes of great significance. But he needed an artist to paint the religious symbols of his order -the Order of Carmelites, on the scarfs used in the ceremony.

Linen stole with painted symbols of the Order of Carmelites.

Painted symbols of the Order of Carmelites on a linen stole.

Now that I understood father Michael's predicament, I agreed to do the paintings, four images per scarf, as shown on these photos. The scarfs -stoles, were about 6 inches wide but the painting proved difficult. Working on raw linen is like painting on a sponge. So I had to apply a size to seal the fabric's fibers before priming the areas for painting. Then I patiently reproduced the reference images that Father Michael provided, repeating the process three more times to complete the four stoles. To make the detailed and small scale job easier (each image is about 2.5 inches wide), I used fluid acrylics paints which felt more like painting with ink.

Linen stole with painted symbols of the Order of Carmelites.

Painted symbols of the Order of Carmelites on a linen stole.

Father Michael was very pleased with the results and so was I. Hmm. Come to thing of it, I rather enjoyed doing this unusual job. Back home, I kept breaking out in laughter thinking about what would a certain Catholic friend of mine, who was convinced I had a free pass to hell, would say if she could see me... painting saints! Actually, she is a real sweetheart, and a Catholic (who traveled with me in Rome), and I confess I could use "a little" of her moralizing influence. By the way, for another story about me and saints, see "Stefan's Patron Saint" in the Paintings page.

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