M a r k   S a n i s l o
Mark Sanislo Painter
Religious   Artist
The Story Behind the Artist
Mark Sanislo, who wrote the Icon:
Union of East and West in Christ

The Pope's directives for Artists —
Evangelize through Art
  By Fr. Robert J. Fox
 Immaculate Heart Messenger  Oct-Dec 2002

Immaculate Heart MessengerMark Sanislo, who wrote the Icon Union of East and West in Jesus Christ, gracing the cover of this issue of the Immaculate Heart Messenger, is among the artists who are taking seriously the challenge given them by Pope John Paul II. Mark has established "Fiat Studios" to produce and promote good Catholic art, and to some day train artists.

Many of our new churches lack taste and beauty and good religious art. Many of our homes lack good religious art.

Pope John Paul II knows that the uplifting of the human spirit to God and evangelizing the true faith, can effectively and powerfully be assisted by good Catholic artists producing noble works. Since I've long been convinced of the role of sacred art in evangelizing the family, I've taken an interest in Mark's "turn in the road" in his artistic endeavors.

At the 2000 jubilee for Artists Pope John Paul II said: "I am pleased today to offer you once again the sentiments of esteem I expressed last year in my Letter to Artists. It is time to return to that fruitful alliance between the Church and artists which has deeply marked the path of Christianity in these two millenniums. ..." The Pope spoke of "sculpting" the stone of our hearts to bring out the features of Christ the new Man. "The Artist who can do this in depth is the Holy Spirit.

However, he requires our responsiveness and docility. Conversion of heart, so to speak, is a work of art jointly produced by the Spirit and our freedom.. ..God lets himself be glimpsed in your spirit through the fascination of beauty and your longing for it. Without a doubt the artist has a special relationship and it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator. If the artist can perceive a ray of the supreme beauty among the many manifestations of the beautiful, then art becomes a way to Cod and spurs the artist to combine his creative talent with his commitment to a life of ever greater conformity to the divine law" (Address of John Paul 11 — For the Jubilee Celebration for Artists).

15 Mysteries of Christ in Art
Currently Mark is working on the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary. He will do 15 sacred art productions on the Rosary which will help us meditate on the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary. When one has meditated on all 15 Mysteries he has meditated on all the chief events of our salvation in Jesus Christ that Pope Benedict XV taught.

Mark has asked me to write the Rosary meditations to go with his 15 productions for the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. The art-meditation book will be suitable for children. We anticipate that many adults will also desire to use the same as we are all children of God. Mark's Sacred Art on the individual mysteries of the Rosary will then be obtainable for framing; or simply as enlarged photos for use in classrooms or homes to aid in meditation.

Last Supper in the Upper Room

Last Supper Mural Painting

The largest painting Mark Sanislo has done is one of The Last Supper. It measures 8 feet high by 20 feet wide. Here is the story of how Mark came to paint that very large "Last Supper" in the Twin Cities "Upper Room."

Tom Kuehn is a fellow parishioner of Mark in the Epiphany parish in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The idea started five years ago while Tom was searching for land for his commercial roofing business. He got the idea to ask Mark Sanislo, professional portrait artist, to paint a large wall mural in the "upper room" of his Kuehn Roof Systems.

Kuehn wanted to pay special tribute to God for helping him find an affordable piece of land and for helping him get people to help him build his two-story headquarters. Kuehn says, "I do a lot of praying. I asked God for land and a building for my business. If I find the right piece of land, I will use it somehow to glorify him and do his will. 1 drove by this lot one day five years ago, and it was for sale. The price was unbelievable — too cheap for the land, I thought. God just put it in front of me."

Mark Sanislo Painting the Wall MuralHe designated an upstairs room as the Upper Room. Then, while doing some volunteer work at Epiphany, he met Sanislo and saw a portrait he had done of Fr. Bernard Reiser, the recently-retired pastor.

"I brought Mark to the upper room in the spring of 2000 and said I had this vision of putting the Last Supper upon the wall as a mural. The idea was to have a room available for Bible study."

Sanislo quickly agreed. "It piqued my interest. What appealed to me," said Sanislo, whose interest in religious art had been more and more developing, "was doing a piece of religious art that would speak to people." Readers can view the result in the Last Supper shown with this article. Below it is somewhat cropped to save space.

Local men posed for Mark Sanilo's Last Supper

Now if you think at first glance Mark simply reproduced the exact characters as in DaVinci's Last Supper, look again. They are not the same. Mark got local people to pose for each Apostle and Jesus, retaining the four sets of three persons.

Another idea was to provide inspiration and a spiritual focal point for people who do business with Kuehn and don't spend much — or any — time in a church. Kuehn said he is not shy about taking people upstairs to see the Upper Room and the painting.

"Some people look at me like I'm crazy," he said, noting that he always takes time to explain the painting. "Others sit and listen. My insurance agent was up there and I just shared with her how Jesus has helped me heal from the various tragedies in my life."

Healing is the message Tom hopes to bring to all visitors. He sums up his vision for the Upper Room with two words that he has on display on his cell phone at all times — "Jesus heals."

Concept of Evangelizing through Art grows

On May 13,2001,1 was invited to speak at the Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids, where Mark is a member. The above painting of the Last Supper was still in progress.

The occasion was to celebrate the new shrine to Our Lady of Fatima on the parish grounds —Fatima Shrine designed by Mark Sanislo a Fatima shrine that Mark Sanislo had designed and members of the Epiphany parish promoted. It would be the first major event for the new shrine since the bishop had dedicated the shrine just before winter set in.

At the two day shrine event I spoke various times, offered Masses, led the Rosary involving children, then adults. All this led to an acquaintance with Mark Sanislo.

Mark then came to the Fatima Family Congress in Alexandria, South Dakota in both 2001 and 2002. He also attended October retreats there, all of which led to further deepening acquaintances.
Idea of "East-West Icon" is Born

Mark Sanislo Fr FoxThis is how the idea for the Icon Union of East and West in Christ was born. The unusual events with Pope John Paul II going on pilgrimage to Damascus, walking in the footsteps of the Apostle St. Paul, and my meeting Myrna Nazzour and the Soufanieh community in Damascus provided the opportunity in God's own planning, it seemed.

A phone call to contact Damascus at once, right when Pope John Paul II was there, the Nazzours asking me to come to Damascus — all seemed more than coincidental. At the very hour I was studying the Icon Our Lady of Soufanieh — something I had not done for ten years — Nicolas and Myrna Nazzour were on the phone saying to me: "Come to Damascus.... Come to our home, the Virgin's home."

All this affected my decision that I was meant to go to Damascus to write a book,  Light from the East — Miracles of Our Lady of Soufanieh, for English speaking readers.

This book is about the Icon Our Lady of Soufanieh, which is rooted in Russia's centuries old miraculous icon, Our Lady of Kazan. Once believed to be destroyed by the communists, the icon is now in possession of the Pope at the Vatican. That is what Mark's Icon Union of East and West in Christ is about. The icon shows how Fatima, Soufanieh or Kazan are interrelated.

It seems that since I founded the Fatima Family Apostolate for the sanctification of families, without personal intent and unexpectedly, I get introduced to people whom God has given unusual charisms which are relative to family life and evangelization.

During the time Mark and his wife were awaiting the birth of their sixth child who arrived in July 2002, Mark wrote the Icon UNION OF EAST AND WEST IN JESUS CHRIST. It would be a major beginning of moving his artistic talent more in line with evangelization. An artist does not paint an icon, he writes an icon. Icons carry special religious messages to be read.

Past experiences prepared for new beginningIcon Our Lady of Soufanieh

Mark was formerly an accomplished commercial artist and photographer; a work history that enhanced his portrait career. He is currently a member of the American Society of Portrait Artists and The Portrait Institute in New York. But his career focus is changing.

When I was in Damascus, researching my book on the Icon Our Lady of Soufanieh, Orthodox Nicolas Nazzour, husband to mystic Melkite Catholic, Myrna, suggested an icon to me. The unusual Soufanieh events, with the total family of Nicolas and Myrna central to the phenomena, have the favor of Church authorities in the East with the Pope being informed and listening quietly. This Soufanieh home is near the site of the conversion and baptism of St. Paul.

It was Nicolas who first suggested an icon to envision the unity of the East and the West. He said, "Why not have the Pope with one hand on Soufanieh and one on Fatima?"

I returned to America and began writing the book, Light from the East — Miracles of Our Lady of Soufanieh. Then I suggested to Mark Sanislo the possibility of writing an icon expressing "Unity of East and West in Christ."

The icon Mark created (see cover) is at the Catholic Church of the Fatima Family Shrine in Alexandria, South Dakota. Because the Orthodox do not see the Pope as Catholics do, Mark wrote a separate but similar icon for the cover of the book.

Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists

Mark is [was] proprietor of "Artists Corner" at Mackinac Island, Michigan, employing up to ten caricature artists each summer. He goes there part of each summer, but mostly he is at his studio in the Twin Cities area.

What is in great need in our modern day is for good artists to devote themselves to liturgical art, good religious art for our churches and our Christian homes. Mark hopes to help fill the void. Mark has been inspired by Pope John Paul II who in 1999 wrote to all artists "who are passionately dedicated to the search for new 'epiphanies' of beauty so that through their creative work they may offer these gifts to the world" (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists — April 1999).

Mark hopes to help teach Catholic values and thus evangelize through his art. Here are a few quotes from the writings of Pope John Paul which have inspired him:

"Linking aesthetics with the pursuit of goodness and the search for truth is certainly one of the main veins to be worked today in a pastoral approach to culture which aims to proclaim the Gospel in a way which is in tune with the signs of our times. Pastoral concern for artists requires Mark at Fargo ND with Johnnettesensitivity as much to aesthetics as to Christian values. In our culture, where a deluge of often banal and brutal images are churned out daily by the television, the cinema and videos, a fruitful union between the Gospel and art will bring about new manifestations of beauty, born from the contemplation of Christ, God made man, from the meditation of his mysteries, from the shining forth in the Virgin Mary and in the saints."...

Those local churches which have distanced themselves from art cannot fail to gain from a renewed contact, making use of appropriate opportunities to meet artists and other professionals from the world of the arts.... By appealing to artists to become a part of her life, the Church is inviting them to renew Christian art. She engages in a confident relationship with artists, one which is built on listening and co-operation. This relationship is to make the most of what educates man and elevates him to a higher level of humanity, by allowing him to participate more intensely in the mystery of God, who is true beauty and supreme goodness. If they are to bear fruit the relationships between faith and art must not be restricted to a search for creativity. Advice, confrontation and discernment are necessary, for faith is fidelity to the Truth.

"The need to build and decorate new churches leads on to a deeper reflection on the church as a holy place, and on the character of the liturgy. Artists are urged to express these spiritual values in their art. Creativity in sacred art should mean that iconography and musical composition develop in a way which is accessible to most people, so that they can see the transcendence of God's love and be led to prayer." {Letter to Artists, April 4,1999)

Much of Modern Art lacks Beauty and is Monstrous

Mark shared with me that while he was in training, his teachers attempted to introduce him to the monstrosities of modern art that tells so much about the confusion of our times. Mark did not fall for it. First, he was engaged in commercial art, then portrait painting. Now he feels ready to finally fulfill the goals envisioned by Pope John Paul II.

Mark had me searching for a Latin title he could use for his logo and studio that would express "Evangelizing through Sacred Art." I got some help from a Latinist at the Vatican, acquainted with elegant Latin, and came up with SACRAM EVANGEUZARE PER ARTEM. Mark finally settled on something very simple. "Fiat" (Let it be done) for his Fiat Studios, To that I responded, "Well then, for your noble goal in harmony with the vision of Pope John Paul II for artists, 'Let it be done.'"
Mother Angelica Catholic Nun
I showed some of Mark's art to Mother Angelica and her Poor Clare nuns. Mark will be doing a special portrait of Mother Angelica as the nun of evangelization.

Papal Letter to Artists
Pope John Paul II in his long "Letter to Artists" envisioned art associations, artist guilds, cultural associations or social clubs for young people, good role-models, etc.

To test Mark's vision I asked him, "Where do you see yourself with 'Fiat Studios' five years from now?" He answered, "In addition to creating religious works I'd like to see myself teaching ten or so budding young artists and influencing them for good religious art such as Pope John Paul II envisions." 


Mark Sanislo can be reached at

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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