Father Peter VanderWeyst has been interested in art since he was a kid, when he sat in a tree on his family’s property near St. Stephen and sketched landscapes.
As pastor of four parishes — Our Lady of Seven Dolors, Millerville; St. Ann, Brandon; Sacred Heart, Urbank, and St. William, Parkers Prairie — he has limited time these days to create, but he draws, paints and does wood carving when he can find the time.
“I’ve always had art as a hobby,” he said. And now he has found a way to use his hobby in his work, teaching faith formation.
Father VanderWeyst organizes two family formation nights a year for each of his parishes. The most recent theme for the evening was “a tour of saints,” for which he painted portraits of 14 saints and compiled information about each one. He included saints who the children would connect with, like St. Francis and St. Nicholas, as well as ones they might not know about, like St. Polycarp, whom he chose because of his martyrdom story.
He started preparing in August for the fall events.
“I devoted 40 hours in a two-week period to the painting portion which is a lot during the summer,” Father VanderWeyst said. In the summer he has more flexibility in his schedule to be able to take on big projects, he added.
“I do these family nights so that I can connect and I can teach with the parish, because with four parishes, you’re spread out so much.”
Providing a visual is important, he said.
“It’s going to grasp people in a different way than if they just had to read something,” he said.
The artworks were displayed throughout the Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church Nov. 8 so families could walk through and visit each one at their own pace, and parents could talk about them with their children. It was set up to be “like walking into an art gallery,” Father VanderWeyst explained.
“I think the kids learn more by seeing things, rather than just hearing about them,” said Shelly Thoennes, who attended with her daughter Lauren, 7.
Kristen Kokette, 15, who walked through the displays with several family members, agreed that it was more fun to go through and see the saints they were learning about.
“It’s intriguing,” said Julie Brandsted, who studied the portraits while her two sons created artworks of their own at the coloring stations set up in the back of church. “I believe in praying to the saints for help, and I’m just learning about more of them I can turn to.”