Church’s memorial icon offers blend of East and West

| January 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Anne Miller, right, offers brief remarks Jan. 10 at St. Joseph in West St. Paul after the blessing of an icon dedicated to her husband, Dick, who died in April. At left is Msgr. Sharbel Maroun, pastor of St. Maron in Minneapolis, who delivered the prayer of blessing. Other clergy present included the Very Rev. Thomas Begley, second from left, of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West St. Paul, and Fathers James Lannan, associate priest at St. Joseph, and Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

It is only fitting that a parish photographer be remembered with an image. In this case, the image is a 5-foot-by-5-foot icon written by local iconographer Debra Korluka of Stillwater.

The icon, depicting the Baptism of the Lord, was installed recently in the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and blessed Jan. 10 in honor of parishioner Richard Miller, who died April 3 at the age of 64. Friends and family, including Miller’s uncle, John Nasseff, provided the funds for the project.

“[Miller’s] wife, Anne, approached me after the funeral about wanting to do something in memory of Dick, maybe something in the church,” said Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph. “He was a very quiet parishioner, but very active in the background. He was the type of guy who would take [prayer] time in the adoration chapel, he was happy to serve as an usher, and he was our parish photographer.”

Lebanese heritage

Father Creagan chose a section of the back wall on the west side for the icon, which originally was supposed to be 4 feet by 4 feet. Somehow, Korluka managed to make it a foot wider and taller and it fit the open space almost perfectly. As workers brought the icon into the church Jan. 4, Anne was on hand to take her first look at the image while it stood against a church wall awaiting installation.

“I was just overwhelmed,” said Anne, who married Dick in 1977 and raised three sons with him. “It was just so beautiful. I could see immediately that it was very deep and that she was going to have to explain a lot of things.”

One element on the icon that needs no explanation is the small cedar of Lebanon tree in the lower right hand corner, a tribute to Dick’s Lebanese heritage. In addition to belonging to St. Joseph, the couple also maintained a membership at Holy Family Maronite Church in Mendota Heights.

Friends and family from that parish were at the dedication, along with Msgr. Sharbel Maroun, a Lebanese priest who is pastor of St. Maron in Minneapolis. He was invited to say the prayer of blessing at the dedication.

Also attending were the Very Rev. Thomas Begley of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West St. Paul and Zeradawit Berhane of St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church in St. Paul. Thus, as Father Creagan had designed, the dedication and the icon represented a blend of eastern and western churches.

“I thought the attendance [at the dedication] was wonderful,” said Korluka, who has five of her icons hanging inside St. Maron, plus icons at other local churches, including the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, St. Joseph in Lino Lakes and Guardian Angels in Oakdale. “This is unusual. This is the most number of people at any one [separate] gathering for a blessing that I’ve ever had.”

Dedication to adoration

Though known for being quiet and humble, Dick managed to make lots of friends in both parishes, hence the 800-plus people who came to his wake and funeral. Though his photographic work has been seen by many parishioners, it’s the man and his deep faith they loved.

And, Anne pointed out, his faith has roots in two decades of eucharistic adoration. When the parish opened a chapel 20 years ago, he was one of the original parishioners to sign up for a holy hour.

“He always took a middle-of-the-night hour,” Anne said. “He loved that quiet time. He had one hour for many years, then, a couple years ago, he added a second hour. Then, maybe a couple months before he died, he said to me, ‘I think I’m going to take a third hour.’ And, I just looked at him like, ‘Are you crazy? It’s the middle of the night.’ He said, ‘Then, each of our sons will have his own hour.’

“That was hugely comforting to the boys when I told them that. So, when we want to be close to Dick, that’s where we go — the adoration chapel.”

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