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Artist-in-Residence program seeks to inspire faithful with beauty

.- Fr. Bart Winters hopes that beauty will help inspire the parishioners at his Chicago parish to greater holiness.

Built in 1904, St. Gregory the Great’s Catholic Church, in the city’s northern neighborhood of Edgewater, doesn’t need much help. But despite the beauty of the church building itself, the parish’s unique artist-in residence program is helping to bring the beauty of the church and the Catholic faith, alive in new ways.

Five years ago, shortly after Fr. Winters came on board as pastor of the gothic-style parish, which had fallen into some disrepair, he enlisted the help of Joseph Malham, a local artist and iconographer to help refurbish the building to its former greatness.

Malham, who was given studio space in the parish in exchange for his handiwork inside, soon multiplied into more artists, taking up residence at the parish--all enhancing its artistic life in their own ways.

Fr. Winters told CNA that in the spirit of theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar, he wants the beauty of Christ, and the beauty--sometimes physical--of the faith, draw people into the Catholic Church.

“We want to reach out to people”, he said, “with the beauty of art and good liturgy.”

Currently, the parish is home to Malham; a priest, jazz-guitarist, Fr. John Moulder, and an Indiana-based Catholic theater ensemble, called Quest.

Like much of the city, the neighborhood around the parish has, in recent years, been going through a period of gentrification and Fr. Winters laments the somewhat transient nature of St. Gregory’s parishioners.

Nevertheless, he is hopeful that the artist-in-residence program will help to draw in more people because, as he puts it, “Christ is beautiful.”

On its website, St. Gregory’s parish states that, “The duties of stewardship compel us to conscientiously preserve and multiply [our] inheritance by employing the arts as a tool of evangelization.”

“In the beauty of our worship, and by means of regularly scheduled sacred concerts and cultural events,” they continue, “we strive to use the arts to spread Christ’s gospel.”

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