His work will go into book for all bishops: Daniel Mitsui was sought out for his spiritual work

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Daniel Mitsui’s tale is not one even his closest loved ones could have written. Less than a decade ago, Mitsui was not a practicing Catholic, largely the result of a spiritually indifferent upbringing in northwest suburban Roselle. During his college years at Dartmouth University, however, Mitsui felt the tug of spiritual life and, specifically, the Catholic faith.

Today, the 30-year-old Chicago resident, a member of St. John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St., with his wife and two boys, finds himself at home in the Catholic Church and, as a freelance artist, increasingly embracing work with religious tones.

And this year, Mitsui’s combination of faith and religious artistry has paid off with a high honor.

Five of Mitsui’s original illustrations will be featured in an interim edition of the Roman Pontifical to be published later this year. Used by bishops around the globe for all things related to the liturgy, the Roman Pontifical is an important liturgical book.

Last summer, Massachusettsbased Msgr. James Moroney, the executive secretary of the Vox Clara Committee, a Vatican committee of senior bishops that advises the Holy See on English-language liturgy and of which Cardinal George is a member, contacted Mitsui at the suggestion of a theologian friend familiar with Mitsui’s professional work.

“The monsignor’s call was so interesting because it was completely out of the blue,” Mitsui said, noting that he did not personally know the theologian who had pointed Moroney to his artwork.

Moroney told Mitsui he wanted the upcoming Pontifical to be a shining example of how liturgical books should be published and a production worthy of the altar. He then asked Mitsui if he would create a series of five illustrations for the project. For Mitsui, it was an easy request to accept.

“I was honored and flattered to be chosen. It’s satisfying when others see the value and quality of your work,” Mitsui said. “But, above all, it’s an honor to work directly for the church.”

Mitsui’s color illustrations depict the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, the Presentation in the Temple, the Descent of the Holy Ghost and Christ the High Priest. Mitsui surrounds these central images with religious symbols and Old Testament figures.

He handed the completed originals to Moroney on Nov. 4, thereby continuing a centuries-old tradition of the church commissioning sacred art from faith-filled artists.

“I’m pleased to see that the church is still patronizing artists for original work. It shows how old traditions remain relevant in the present day,” Mitsui said.

When Resurrection Father Frank Phillips, pastor at St. John Cantius, first saw Mitsui’s artistic work, he nudged the young artist to study the church’s artistic history. Mitsui heeded his pastor’s suggestion and, in time, Mitsui’s already medieval-inspired work moved from the secular to the sacred.

In recent years at St. John Cantius, Mitsui has led presentations on illumination, displayed his work, and made select pieces available to parishioners. Phillips said it’s been a valuable relationship for all involved.

“I think his move to sacred art has not only bolstered his faith, but that of others as well,” Phillips said.

The pastor added that Mitsui incorporates a strong understanding of liturgical and theological symbolism into his work.

“Daniel has such a good grasp of sacred history and symbolism before he even attempts an illustration,” Phillips said. “You see that in his work. He contemplates the entire picture.”

That intense study and sense of duty is particularly evident in Mitsui’s work for the Roman Pontifical.

Seeking a unified look to his five commissioned images, Mitsui examined 15th-century artwork from northern Europe. For as much as he studied the artistry of the works, he devoted equal attention to the theological components he might inject into the Pontifical project.

“In medieval art, there’s a precise way of expressing faith and I’m trying to be a part of a tradition much larger than myself,” Mitsui said. “I want to approach my religious art with the right spirit and an honor for all which has come before me.”