BAILEYS HARBOR — The liturgical banners hanging in all the Stella Maris churches in Door County are a little bit about the season and a little bit about Ryan Miller, who designed them.
Miller, who has been creating these banners for the past couple years at the request of Fr. Dave Ruby, pastor, hopes the people at Mass will see a little of themselves in them, too.
“We’re part of something greater than us,” Miller said, taking a break from his job as art director for Peninsula Pulse Publications. “Everyone is like a mosaic piece in the picture and our job is to make those pieces fit together. Maybe not exactly, as in a puzzle, but close enough to make a larger picture.”
That statement was reflected in his Ordinary Time banner, which Miller glanced at now and then from his front pew seat as he talked. The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove on the green background is made up of smaller doves, the many being a part of the greater whole.
Miller grew up in Mequon near Milwaukee, but his family spent so much time in Door County it felt like a second home, even before he got his job at the Peninsula Pulse in 2012. Three years later, his brother chose to get married in Baileys Harbor — one of the five sites of Stella Maris Parish — and that brought Miller to Fr. Ruby’s attention.
“I had never done liturgical banners before, but Fr. Dave knew I was an artist, and I guess he just wanted me to get more involved — share my talents that way,” he said.
Designing something wasn’t in itself anything new. Miller has always painted and drawn and went to school for graphic design — which he calls “another way to do art” — using his computer. But liturgical banners, which sum up the theme of each of the church’s liturgical seasons, were something new.
Miller starts with a conference with Kathy Sedan, who is in charge of worship and music for Stella Maris. She talks with him about the theme of the season and provides him with Mass readings so he can get a feel for the message. He then finds a way to depict it visually, draws up a sample and presents it for review. Once approved, the design goes to a printer in Sturgeon Bay.
It’s Miller’s hope that the banners help people as they worship and listen to the Gospel, that they tell a visual story much as stained glass windows do.
“I’m kind of happy that Fr. Dave has referenced my banners,” Miller said, in his quiet, soft-spoken way. “It seems like they help, in his homilies.”
As each banner goes up for each succeeding season, the parish prints an insert with a picture of it, along with a bit of the explanation as to why Miller chose that particular design.
“I like to leave some of that explanation open,” he said, “so that people can bring their own life experiences to the interpretation.”
Making these banners has affected his own faith.
“I like to think it has brought me closer to God and to understanding what he wants me to do. I believe he’s given me gifts in art, and the ability to speak that way,” said Miller. “He gives gifts to everyone and it’s our obligation to use them and share them with others. It’s how we learn to understand each other.”
Sharing one’s gifts, he said, is how one mere individual can make a difference in the world and help others to make a difference, too.
Miller said he’s grateful that Fr. Ruby asked him to work on these banners “because it probably isn’t something I would have thought to do myself.” He’s happy that his art, which is such a big part of him, is something that can bring joy and meaning to others when they go to Mass.
“I’ve gotten emails from parishioners and even from visitors,” he said. “They tell me they love the banner and that it spoke to them. It’s rewarding to hear that.”
People who know Miller sometimes approach him after Mass with comments.
Instead of reusing the banners year after year, Stella Maris allows Miller to create a new one each season. He will soon start on his third Advent banner. Eventually, he said, he’ll have to dig deeper to find new inspirations.
For Miller, that probably won’t be a problem. Since he brings his own life experiences to each one, he will recognize new things in the Gospel readings as they come around each year. He’s looking forward to it.
“Fr. Dave stresses the discipleship part of our lives as Catholics, and I look at making these banners as my way of being a disciple in the parish,” said Miller.