Green Bay pastor says parish’s new icons assist with prayer

GREEN BAY — Do you have a favorite piece of local church history?

The churches in the Diocese of Green Bay each hold some art that can be seen nowhere else. During this 150-year celebration of the jubilee of the Diocese of Green Bay, The Compass wants to share the stories of some of these artworks.

This week, we feature St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay. The parish recently added seven icons of saints along the walls of the church. They were installed in time for the parish’s weekend celebration of their patronal feast, St. Agnes, on Feb. 21.

This icon of St. Philip Neri includes an image of Fr. Patrick Beno’s Beagle, Ramona. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The seven icons joined three others that were installed in June 2016, when Bishop David Ricken was present and the parish was consecrated to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. These first three icons installed were St. Agnes, the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart.

The seven new icons are Saints Michael, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Josephine Bahkita and John the Baptist. All 10 icons were written by De Pere artist Nancy Gezella, who has degrees in interior and mechanical design. The frames for the icons were built by parish member, Jim Hein.

Fr. Patrick Beno, pastor, explained that adding the icons was meant to assist with prayer. He noted that “God made us sensory beings … the body pairs with the soul in prayer.”

He has written a litany “to pray to the saints of the icons and the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts” that can be found in the parish missalettes. Fr. Beno hopes that people can “‘walk the icons’ while praying the litany, in the same way as someone would walk the Stations of the Cross.”

Each icon is sponsored by members of the parish. Future icons will be written as sponsors step forward.

Fr. Beno sponsored the icon of St. Philip Neri, whom he considers the patron saint of his priesthood. He asked that St. Neri’s icon includes two books — the Bible and a book of jokes. He said the saint, who was a priest, always had someone read him jokes before Mass to help him prepare for his homilies and avoid distractions.

An icon at St. Agnes Church depicts Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who, along with their cousin Lucia Santos, witnessed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“He was a model of joy and cheerfulness and also liked to play little jokes,” Fr. Beno said.

As a nod to St. Philip Neri’s “cheerfulness and good humor,” Fr. Beno asked Gezella to include a small, gamboling image of his own pet beagle, Ramona, in the saint’s icon. “Now (Ramona) will be in St. Agnes church ‘til the end of the age,” said the priest, “presuming that some other pastor doesn’t take the icons down!”

For a complete explanation of each icon, you can view a YouTube video of Fr. Beno or visit the parish’s icon site.

These icons at St. Agnes Church are just one example of the unique art found in churches across the Diocese of Green Bay. Parishes that would like to share their church’s artwork should send a photo and information about the art to The Compass, PO Box 23825, Green Bay WI 54305, attn. “Church Art.”

Information can also be sent to [email protected] List “Church art, 150th,” in the title.