Deacons live out the Gospel daily. They volunteer to serve the church while carrying out their jobs and fulfilling their responsibilities to their spouses and families. The Deacon Icon Project is an effort to acknowledge and thank deacons for their service to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Katherine de Shazer, an iconographer with Sophia Sacred Arts, writes one of the icons on tables set up in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, on Oct. 9. When finished, de Shazer and fellow iconographer, Andrea Bowes, will have put in 300 hours of work on the project. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)A mosaic of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi donated to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist parish office by the Franciscan religious communities inspired the project. The painting acknowledges the ministry the Franciscans have done in the church in Southeastern Wisconsin.

A deacon suggested to Fr. Jeffrey Haines, rector of the cathedral, that the deacons of the archdiocese be acknowledged through a work of art.

“I was fascinated because I’ve been very blessed as a priest to have affiliations with permanent deacons who enrich my ministry,” said Fr. Haines. “They’re members of the clergy with their own service, filling a very unique role in the church. What a way for the archdiocese to have a place where people can come and have some way to honor the deacons and everything they’ve done.”

Their service at Mass is not the only aspect of the diaconate that will be acknowledged by this project, but also their work in the community as they live out the Gospel, according to Fr. Haines.

“Most people see the deacons helping out at the altar, proclaiming the Gospels,” said Fr. Haines. “But the primary work of a deacon is not at the altar, but in the hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and meal programs.”

When Fr. Haines first presented the idea to the deacons, they were hesitant, since their ministry serves the less

A Memorial Mass for all deacons and wives who have died will be held Sunday, Oct. 26, at Holy Family Church, 271 Fourth Street Way, Fond du Lac at 2 p.m. The public is invited to come and learn more about the Deacon Icon Project.

fortunate. They felt they didn’t need to be honored, he said.

“We have to foster our own vocations for this ministry,” said Deacon Tom Hunt. “It’s not about who we are, but getting the word out to prospective men that this is not a secondary ordination; it is an ordination for life.”

Representatives of the deacon senate discussed possibilities for the project and decided to have two icons of deacon saints created — Stephen and Lawrence. St. Stephen exemplifies diaconal ministry in proclaiming the Word of God; St. Lawrence represents its service to the poor and needy.

After researching several iconographers and painters, the deacons chose the local artisans of Sophia Sacred Arts to write the icons.

The word “iconography” comes from Greek roots meaning “to write images.” When writing icons, layers of color are painted, each layer symbolizing the written word.

“With each layer there’s a deeper presence that comes onto the board so that when people see them they will

To contribute to the Deacon Icon Project, send checks to “Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 831 North Van Buren St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53202. In the memo line on the check, please note it is intended for the “Deacon Icon Project.”

speak to them in ways that are deeper than just reading a book or reading something with your mind,” said iconographer Katherine de Shazer. “It speaks to the heart in a different way than anything really.”

The artists of Sophia Sacred Arts use authentic 15th-century Byzantine egg tempera to write the icons instead of acrylic paint. Egg tempera is an ancient art involving grinding and adding real egg and wine to make the pigment.
Representatives from the deacon senate collaborated with iconographers to determine the colors and symbols that were to be used, adapting the traditional aspects of iconography to the needs of the diaconate and the cathedral.

“It’s been really wonderful to actually experience some of the reality of who these beings actually are,” said de Shazer. “Icons hold the spiritual energy of the beings that they represent.”

De Shazer and Andrea Bowes write the icons in the cathedral and invite the public to become a part of the process, promoting the diaconate at the same time.

“Most people have never seen anything like this before,” said Bowes. “We wanted people to be able to observe it and feel more a part of it, so we can advertise this project to promote the diaconate.”

With many school and youth groups visiting the cathedral each year, the icons will serve as a teaching and inspirational tool, in particular with service to vocations to the diaconate.

“We are trying to bring the sacred art of iconography to communities,” said de Shazer. “To help people understand what icons are, how they’re painted, how the painting imbues their holiness. The community itself can come together in prayer in viewing these icons.”

The project also acknowledges and thanks the deacons who have retired or died.

 “The deacons ask for nothing; they don’t get paid,” said Fr. Haines. “It’s a way for us to thank them for what they’ve done for the church.”

De Shazer and Bowes will finish writing by the end of October, completing about 300 hours on the project. The icons will take about a month to cure, oil, and frame for permanency. The plan is to add lamps and flowers to the sanctuary as well.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will dedicate and bless the icons in a special service at the cathedral on Dec. 21.
The deacons have been donating funds to pay for the icons, as well as the protection and display for the icons, the lamps, and the upkeep and care of the shrine. The goal, if enough funds are raised, is to create small reproductions of the icons as gifts to the permanent deacons.

Any remaining funds will be donated to the sister parish of the archdiocese, La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic, for an educational scholarship fund.

“I’m hoping that parishioners will see this as a good tool for vocations and see what deacons have done for them in the past and into the future that they may come forward with whatever financial assistance they might view reasonable for this,” said Deacon Hunt.