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Fr. Bob Gilroy, SJ

Fr. Bob Gilroy, SJ

Encounters with God through Art
The arts have been a significant way that I have learned to encounter God. The foundations of this creativity were nurtured in Catholic grammar school and a Jesuit high school. A combination of bible study in small groups and reflections on community service stirred up desires to pursue a religious vocation. I continued to volunteer with special needs populations during college and afterwards in a professional capacity which confirmed the call to enter the Jesuits.

My art education includes an undergraduate major in art and graduate training in art therapy. I have integrated that learning with my formation as a priest in the spiritual tradition of Jesuits. Most of my life as a Jesuit has been to minister to the Lakota Sioux people of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota as a chaplain and spiritual director. Other art related projects include illustrations for religious brochures, book covers and publications like “America”, a Jesuit weekly magazine.

Much of my artwork focuses on faces or figures. I may begin with a model or I may just apply paint to a surface and through the interplay of color, line and texture I begin to see facial features. Then I use a palette knife or razor blade to reveal more details. Each piece of work emerges from the ongoing dynamic between silence and my consent that allows the spirit of creation to direct my hands. I also work with collage. This process involves composing an image with photos, hand-made papers or found objects glued to a background surface.

Certain spiritual themes emerge as subjects based on prayer methods suggested by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. One exercise is to imagine a Gospel scene and place myself there, using my senses to bring the story to life in detail. When I interact with Jesus, images evoke desires to know and love Him more in order to follow Jesus more closely. Sometimes a scripture passage suggests what I see on the canvas or an image may be revealed in the creative process that prompts me to return to a story in Jesus’ life. If I quietly pay attention to the images they can reflect how God was present in my ordinary daily experiences. Learning to pray like St. Ignatius revealed how the gift of art enables me to be God’s co-creator who can lead others to discover God’s desire for the good of all creation.