Gary Baca and his painting of the Divine Mercy at the All Saints Chapel.
It began with a bequest: a gilt frame in which Gary Baca wanted to place artwork to honor the memory of the person who bequeathed it to him.
But Baca's own work did not suit that frame. A lifelong artist, Baca has been able to turn his full attention to art after his retirement as a principal in the San Lorenzo schools. "We couldn't think of anything to put in the frame," he said.
For more than a year, various suggestions were made. The frame would require something new, and the frame would enhance the painting.
At a dinner at the art-filled home he shares with his wife JoAnne, he presented his dilemma to a pair of guests: Rev. George Crespin, their longtime friend, and Rev. Filiberto Barrera, who at the time was their pastor at All Saints Parish.
It was Father Barrera who said, "Christ of the Divine Mercy."
For more than a year, in his light-filled home studio, Gary Baca painted, painstakingly working from top to bottom, with the icon familiar on prayer cards as his guide, to create a luminous image of Jesus.
The image is based on the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun who was canonized by St. Pope John Paul II in 2000. In 1931, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina in a vision. She saw Jesus clothed in a white garment with His right hand raised in blessing. His left hand was touching His garment in the area of the Heart, from where two large rays came forth, one red and the other pale.
Baca's painting beautifully captures St. Faustina's vision.
The Bacas' sons are graduates of All Saints School and they looked forward to making the gift to their home church. But as the artist worked, change came to the parish.
The Bacas were pleased when Rev. Ramon Gomez, the new pastor, liked the painting and welcomed it to the church. After its unveiling in the church on Divine Mercy Sunday 2015, the painting moved to its home in the All Saints Chapel, where daily Mass is celebrated.
St. Faustina's diary records 14 occasions when Jesus requested that a Feast of Mercy, Divine Mercy Sunday, be observed. On May 5, 2000, five days after the canonization of St. Faustina, the Vatican decreed that the Second Sunday of Easter would henceforth be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
While Gary Baca's work is in private collections, the Divine Mercy painting marks the first time he has painted for a church.
He takes his place in the long line of artists whose artwork has helped people understand the word of God.
As a young artist, Baca was offered the opportunity to concentrate solely on his art. But the would-be patron attached a demand: Baca would remain unmarried and not let a spouse or children get in his way.
"What if you were about to paint an eye," Baca recalled the patron asking him, raising his hand as if holding a brush, "and the baby cried. What would you do?"
Baca chose marriage to JoAnne, the beautiful young teacher who had agreed in a phone call to be his date for a dinner for catechists. A portrait of her hangs by the front door of their home. It may just be his most loving artwork of all.
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