By Paula Katinas
ASTORIA — St. Joseph is a towering figure in the Catholic Church, but at heart, the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus was the quintessential family man.
That was something Father Vincent Chirichella, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Astoria, wanted to remind his parishioners of — the notion of Joseph as the protector of the family.
Father Chirichella found a way to get the point across. On Sunday, July 31, he blessed “Rest of the Holy Family,” an oil painting inside the church depicting Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus. The blessing took place during the 9 a.m. Mass.
The pastor commissioned Francesco Santoro, an artist from Milan, Italy, to paint the portrait. The artwork shows Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus resting on rocks under swirling clouds and portrays Joseph with an arm lovingly wrapped around Mary. Santoro completes the scene with an angel gazing at the family from the sky above. The artist was at the Mass to see his creation unveiled.
Jackie Barkoutsis, who has been attending Mass at St. Joseph’s her entire life, was dazzled by the painting. “It’s gorgeous!” she said after Mass. “You look at it, and you think, ‘This is what our Catholic faith is all about.’
“And to think it’s going to be here in our church forever, it’s overwhelming.”
Patricia Rodriguez, who was visiting St. Joseph’s on Sunday, said the painting gave her “a feeling of tranquility.” She called the artwork “a beautiful expression of our Catholic faith.”
The idea for some type of new painting for the church came to Father Chirichella last Christmas season when Father Alessandro Linardi, the parochial vicar, came into the rectory one day holding a small, three-inch sculpture depicting the image of the Holy Family later captured in the painting. “Everybody fell in love with it,” Father Chirichella said of the sculpture. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to find an artist to paint this? We could place it in the church.’ ”
A search led to Santoro, a painter and sculptor who specializes in religious artworks. Santoro, who works primarily in the Classical Renaissance tradition, agreed to take on the project.
“I am an artist of sacred art. I work for the churches, for the faith,” the Italian-speaking Santoro explained through a translator. “I want to represent the Christian faith and the events of Christianity through an artist’s perspective.”
Santoro added that he believes art is a noble profession because “it increases the faith.”
From start to finish, the project took a total of six months. John Brendel, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, donated the funding to cover the costs of the painting.
Careful consideration went into the placement of “Rest of the Holy Family” inside St. Joseph’s. The perfect spot was found for it — on the wall next to the vestibule doorway.
On the other side of the opening stands a sculpture of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. The two artworks, which frame the doorway, offer parishioners the chance to contemplate their meaning as they leave church after Mass, Father Chirichella said.
While he encourages parishioners to marvel at the beauty of the new Holy Family artwork, Father Chirichella really hopes they think about its meaning: “I hope it will allow them to reflect on the role of St. Joseph as the protector of the child Jesus.”