Give Us Shepherds

Fr. Reed Mungovan, S.D.S., became pastor of Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee in 2019. He already enjoyed painting when he learned more about icons nearly 20 years ago and later began creating them. Icons are sacred art meant to visually express the theological teaching of the Church.

What is your favorite thing about being a priest? A pastor?

I love being a priest because I can be so close to Jesus at the altar, in prayer and in the sacraments. I love being a pastor because I am able to experience how important Jesus is to my parishioners. It is a privilege and a blessing.

Any surprises about being a priest or pastor?

Being a religious priest, living in community and being a pastor, there are always surprises. There is never a dull moment. There is always something new and often times there are many challenges. The beautiful thing is that Jesus walks with us and helps us with each surprise, challenge and blessing.

How would you describe your relationship with Jesus?

When I wake up in the morning, I say to Jesus, “Jesus, I choose you first today.” My entire life revolves around Jesus. I look forward to walking with him each day and learning something new about Jesus each day, too.

You create icons — can you explain what an icon is and list some examples of ones you have done?

Icons originated in the Eastern Churches. They are usually painted on wooden boards coated with gesso. They are images of God, the saints or angels. Icons are windows into heaven. Each detail in an icon represents something holy and teaches us about God, the saint or the angel. Icons are painted; however, one says that an icon is written. Icons are the Gospel written with brush strokes. I have written several icons over the years: St. Luke, the Nativity, St. Francis and Wolf, Christ the Teacher, St. Therese, Jonah, Konev Mother of God, Saints Peter and Paul, Holy Trinity, St. Kateri, Mother of Good Counsel and the Soul of Mary.

How is an icon different than a regular painting?

An icon is a window into heaven. Regular painting often depicts what can be seen. Writing an icon depicts what can be seen by the eyes of faith. Regular painting is often realistic, while writing an icon is more symbolic.

How did you become interested in creating icons?

When I was a seminarian with the Marist Fathers and Brothers, one of the priests was helping at a small, Eastern Catholic Church. There were so many icons in this little church. The icons covered the walls of the church. I became fascinated by their style and their religious depictions.

What kind of painting did you enjoy before you zeroed in on icons?

Before painting icons, I enjoyed painting with acrylics and watercolors.

Can you explain how you go about creating an icon?

Since 2011, I have gone on an icon retreat each year in La Crosse at the Franciscan Spirituality Center. At each retreat, we are guided by our iconographer Phil Zimmerman. We trace in pencil the outline of the holy image on our icon board coated with gesso. We spend one week of full days writing the icon. We start by putting on the darker base coats. Each day, we add more light and more detail to the icon.

Can you give some examples of what the different layers and colors symbolize?

The layers of an icon go from dark to light. We as followers of Christ move from the darkness to the light of Christ. Often, you will see our Blessed Mother or Jesus in blue and red robes. The blue suggests their humanity and the red their divinity.

What icon have you not yet done that you might like to do in the future?

I would like to write an icon about St. Nicholas. This icon has several scenes within it, and there is a boat and water in the icon.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

For you and me to grow in faith, we can take small steps each day — one brushstroke at a time, opening one page of reading the scripture or a holy book at a time, serving one hot meal at a time to someone who is hungry.