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SEAS pastor creates icon of St. Paul for Cardinal in Rome

By Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

The Rev. James Perkl, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, Hastings, is nearing completion on another piece of artwork, an icon of St. Paul, which was commissioned for St. Paul’s Outside the Walls Church in Rome and Cardinal James Michael Harvey who serves there.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of the St. Paul Minneapolis Archdiocese asked Perkl to do the artwork.

“This icon is an expression of the new evangelization,” said Perkl. “What the new means is that in the world we are in a new situation and that is materialism and secularism — the heart is filled with emptiness.

“That’s why we need it. God’s love and mercy fills the emptiness. The icon is written to fill the emptiness.”

Perkl explained that Saul was the original name for Paul. When Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, he stopped the persecution of Christ and become a Christian. His name was then changed to Paul.

The icon depicts Paul “holding” the church, the large baptismal candle is held in hand with the Holy Spirit emanating from it. The number, “1949” is the year the cardinal was baptized and was called to new life in Christ.

“Just as when Saul died; when he received the Holy Spirit, he was converted and began living a new life,” said Perkl. “The cardinal did the same.”

The 13 marks around the halo near Paul’s head represent the 13 books of the Bible that Paul wrote.

“We are invited to read the Bible so we too are converted by the word of God,” said Perkl,” and can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Love results.”

The completed icon - after it is dried, a final finishing surface will be applied - will be delivered to Rome this fall.

All the work that Perkl did on the icon received the final approval of the Archbishop.

“That was the final image, the drawing, everything,” said Perkl.

The drawing was completed during the Easter vigil earlier this spring. That was about the same time the new pope, Pope Francis selected. Cardinal James Michael Harvey was one of the cardinals on the selection panel.

When he works on an icon — Perkl has completed two in conjunction with Archdiocese partnership with the Kitui Archdiocese, and another for the St. Paul Seminary — Perkl said he “enters” its mystery through prayer and retreat.

“I seek to be converted through mind, heart and body,” he said. “I give my focus to enter that Christian mystery.”

This is a many-step process. The finishing will actually be an oil which will brighten the colors, help to preserve the paints (egg-tempera) used.

There is no signature on the icon, which will be hung at the church and remain for years to come.

It is another example of God’s work in him, Perkl said.