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Faith inspires art

Faith inspires art
La Vernia artist Norma Montoya Mu’oz, a native of Laredo, smiles shyly beneath the painting of St. Sophia commissioned by St. Ann pastor, the Rev. Stanislaw Fiuk, in the St. Sophia Chapel in the parish cemetery.

When Norma Montoya Mu’oz moved to La Vernia several years ago, she had no idea how her artistic talents would soon be used to connect the heart of a community with a first-century saint.

“I don’t know how Father Stan knew I was an artist, but almost as soon as I began attending church at St. Ann’s, he asked me to create a special work of art,” said Munoz, referring to the Rev. Stanislaw Fiuk, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church.

Born and raised in Laredo and a member of one of that city’s founding families, Mu’oz came to La Vernia three years ago with her husband, Oscar, who works for the Texas A&M University system. La Vernia is a central location for his work along the Texas border and at A&M.

The painting commissioned by the parish priest was intended for a prayer chapel being built in the St. Ann cemetery with funds donated by the family of Sophie Sparks, a young child who had succumbed to cancer; while she battled her illness, Sophie touched many hearts in this community and others.

The chapel was named after St. Sophia, whose own daughters named Faith, Hope and Charity were tortured by the Romans in an effort to force Sophia to renounce her faith in Jesus. Sophia’s faith never wavered and she became a powerful example of faith in Christ. Like St. Sophia, little Sophie also is remembered for her strong faith in prayer and God’s love; stories of her devotion usually seen in much older believers have touched many hearts and minds.

It was that faith that Mu’oz wanted to depict.

“Ever since I was a child, I have felt a special closeness to St. Sophia, so this project immediately held deep meaning for me.”

Researching the saint and her three daughters, while also learning more about the special La Vernia child, was only the beginning of the awareness being created in the artist.

Mu’oz, a former art teacher, had never painted with or instructed in oils; the medium is seldom taught to young students, due to the slow drying time and possible toxicity. For the commissioned work, the artist learned not only oil painting, but a new style; her prior repertoire seldom included realism, which she felt was necessary to portray the period attire and true meaning in this special artwork. Following much prayer, interruptions due to family commitments, and the desire to truly honor the saint and her children, her work of art and heart was finally completed and placed in the tiny chapel.

A dedication for the chapel took place April 12, officiated by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garc’a-Siller.

Near the altar, attracting the gaze and emotions of all who enter, is the stunningly beautiful depiction by Mu’oz of St. Sophia and her daughters, a painting which represents God’s presence in a chapel, in a child, and in a community.

“In this chapel, many people will know God is here,” the archbishop said, during the dedication.

The St. Sophia Chapel is located on the grounds of the St. Ann Catholic Cemetery on F.M. 1346; it is part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

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