Living Hope Newsletter – April 2011


The Missionary Painter

When Claretian Father Cerezo Barredo became a
priest in Spain in 1957, his idea for what his work as a
missionary would be puzzled his superiors. Fr. Cerezo
wanted to do something quite different than anyone in
the congregation had done: meld his creative talent as
an artist with his desire to serve those in need as a
missionary priest.

Throughout his studies at the School of Fine
Arts in Madrid during those early years, he remained
dedicated to his vocation, and as his superiors saw
his remarkable talent, they allowed Fr. Cerezo the
opportunity to pursue his vocation to the fullest extent.

And that is precisely what Fr. Cerezo has done for
the last fifty years, becoming both a highly regarded
artist and architect. His colorful, soulful religious
murals, mosaics, and stained glass grace chapels and
churches throughout Latin America, Europe, and here
in the United States.

Mural Museo Santiago 2

For each work of art that Fr. Cerezo conceives and executes, he draws upon his own lived experience among the poor to create a piece that expresses their shared experience of life and faith. “What the sacred art of our time desires is to light and make clear spiritual worlds which words can only haltingly describe,” he says.

“The actualization of sacred art comes through a search for a sincere expression of the Christian meanings—which have to be lived before they can be expressed.”

Fr. Cerezo, like all Claretians, shares his life with the people he serves by living among them and taking part in their struggles, both spiritual and temporal. These struggles are those of the poor, particularly in Peru where he lived for many years, witnessing and expressing their realities of persecution and martyrdom amid political strife. Mural painting became a primary form for Fr. Cerezo, an approach that is born out of the deep tradition of mural painting as the artistic meeting place of the struggling Christian community.

Known to many as the “painter of liberation,” Fr. Cerezo’s art blends literalism and abstraction as his work fuses the stories of Christ’s life, persecution, and salvation with the faces, aura, and stories of the poor he has lived among throughout his missionary life.

One of his first works in the missions in Peru was in a drug-infested area. Because of their actions against the drug cartel, the town and the church were attacked. The cartel burned down the church and with it Fr. Cerezo’s huge mural depicting the history of salvation. Fr. Cerezo used his architecture skills to redesign the church, placing the sanctuary in the center of the long, narrow building— which was a new approach to the use of a church’s interior at that time. His new mural spans the long back wall of the church today.

Fr. Cerezo is held in high esteem by those he has lived among, by those who experience his art, and especially by his fellow Claretians for his remarkable blending of artistic and spiritual expression as an avenue to pursue his mission. “Cerezo is appreciated all over Latin America and in many countries of Europe who follow the South American church,” says Claretian Fr. Richard Todd, who has known Fr. Cerezo throughout his many years as a missionary priest. “He is a vigorous embodiment of our Claretian mission.”


A Place to Succeed

Anyone who visits the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago will also see another special aspect of the parish that is home to the Shrine—children, dressed in their red and blue plaid uniforms, serving mass, singing in the choir, and playing on the grounds in the school.

The Claretians’ Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG) school is unique among Catholic schools; the trend in many cities and dioceses is a decreasing student population—20 to 30 percent every year—and along with that, school closures. A different trend is taking place at OLG. For the last five years enrollment has increased every year, making it possible for the school to remain a vital and active part of the lives of so many children and their families in the community.


A different trend is taking place at OLG. For the last five years enrollment has increased every year, making it possible for the school to remain a vital and active part of the lives of so many children and their families in the community.

What are OLG’s ingredients for success? The school is a place where teachers, students, and parents want to be. Many teachers have been on staff for 20 years or longer; they know the needs of the students as well as the community. Parents who consider a Catholic education an important facet of their childrens’ upbringing look to OLG to assist them, as they have for the last 64 years. The children know they are welcome and loved at OLG because of its remarkable family atmosphere.

“OLG has impacted my children in such a way that they don’t want to go to any other school,” says parent Maria Castro. “They feel at home here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. OLG has been able to help me keep my children here, which is what I want for them. This is the best school for them."

Keeping children like Maria Castro’s in school is no small feat. Principal Mike Hughes has worked in many school settings, and finds OLG to be one of a kind. “I’ve been around, and this is the best faculty staff I’ve seen anywhere,” he says. “OLG is one of the best schools on the South Side of Chicago. We increase the technology in the building each year. And our recently rehabbed gymnasium gives children a place to play other than outside.

“We are building the next generation’s leaders as we prepare the children for the next step in life, for high school and on to university,” he adds.

But along with its many successes like enrollment growth, capital improvements, and high numbers of graduates going on to attend college, OLG faces a host of challenges—including the need for scholarship funds for the many families in the community who want, but can’t afford, Catholic education. Even though OLG is unable to collect tuition from all of its families, they are not turned away.

Hughes is gratified by the financial support the school receives from people who embrace its mission— a mission that is directly tied to the Claretian mission. The Claretians have a longstanding dedication not only to Catholic education, but to building up lay leaders in the communities where they live.

Claretian Fr. Carl Quebedeux has served in ministries from the remote areas of Guatemala to vocational formation. He now is pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and School, and is an esteemed spiritual presence in the community.

“The mission of the school is connected to the mission of the parish, and that’s to provide quality education that’s value-based, faith-based, and to reach out to build the community,” says Fr. Carl. “Our Catholic education is a vital part of preparation of leaders for the future, and a vital part of a significant history here. We all want to see that continue.”

Like Fr. Carl, Claretian Fr. Tom Moran lives and ministers at OLG. Fr. Moran has dedicated his life to Claretian ministries, and is a beloved fixture in the community. “The children I see are very happy to come here, and the school is dedicated to bring the best out of them,” he says. “That works well because of our teachers, who are experienced, dedicated, kind, and patient. Students respond to that.

“We say in Spanish: beinvendos a su casa, welcome to your home—which means that the school becomes a home for all who are here.”