I suppose you've noticed things are a bit different on the blog here. The changes are, in case you haven't guessed, meant to reflect my "pilgrim" status over the next three months. I hope you'll be back to visit soon, as I'll be making regular journal entries along with some thoughtful and well-crafted photos meant to emphasize quality and not quantity. Six other seminarians will also be posting journal entries and photos on the Official Seminary Journal, the link to which can be found above ("The Seminarian's Tale"). We're leaving on Wednesday, so good stuff will soon be forthcoming!
In the meanwhile, to tide you over until our first entry, I thought I'd share a little piece of artwork recently commissioned for a priest friend of ours. It's a bookplate, designed to be pasted into the inside front cover of a book, and identifies the owner in a distinctive way. These were all the rage back in the day, but as we hold our books cheap these days, this sort of investment hasn't caught on.
However, the fellow in question is quite the learned man, and is an earnest lender of books. What better gift than a bookplate? So we thought, and indeed it turned out better than I'd hoped. The very talented Matthew Alderman, a recent graduate of Notre Dame architecture, designed a custom drawing that we had printed using offset lithography (the same process used to print books).
The drawing is of Bishop Frederic Baraga, the first bishop of our friend's diocese. He was known as the "snowshoe priest" during his years of working with the trappers and natives, slogging from village to village with a seemingly indefatigable fervor. In his right hand, he holds a book entitled "Kije-Manito o Masinaigan," which if you knew Chippewa, you'd be able to translate as "The Holy Book of God," i.e. the Bible; you see, Baraga wrote the first grammar of the Chippewa language (which, interestingly enough, I was able to use to look up the Chippewa word for Bible... thanks GoogleBooks!). The fleur-de-lis in the moon symbolizes the Mother of God, to whom Baraga had dedicated the very first church he christened in the territory, according to a vow he'd made years before. The lily is also a common symbol of purity, and has been used in iconography for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron saint of youth as well as of the small Salvadoran village in which our friend served for three years before entering the seminary. The national bird of El Salvador, the torogóz, is reclining at the foot of the left stave, and a small hare is poking its head up above the roof (the Salvadoran nickname for the man was "el conejo").
But the finest detail is hidden to the untutored eye. This newly ordained priest had done a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of the saintly bishop, tracing a path from the first Mass offered in the mission to his tomb in the diocesan cathedral. You'll notice in the snow behind Baraga are footprints leading to the treeline. It might be hard to see, but there's a silhouette of a man standing in an opening in the trees, heading out to "follow in the footsteps" of the founding bishop of his diocese. All in all, a rich symbolic icon of the man we know, and hopefully an encouragement to hold fast to his priestly calling and pursue excellence through the intercession of his shepherd's predecessor!