In Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists, he writes: “Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark, which is the artistic vocation … feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.”
Nearly two decades later, in Anchorage, a young Alaska Catholic is pursuing his artistic vocation to share his creative talent with wider community.
Jonah Doniere, 15 years old, is a parishioner at St. Benedict Church in Anchorage. He attends Polaris, a K-12th grade school in Anchorage, and has carried a creative impulse his whole life.
“I come from a family of artists,” Doniere said. “My mom teaches art and my dad is a landscape architect. I have always been into art. I can’t remember a starting point. I’ve always loved drawing.”
Doniere began creating religious art by imitating traditional iconography before he developed his own style.
“I started making traditional icons at first because I wanted to express how beautiful the Catholic faith was,” Doniere explained. “I loved all the saints and was inspired by their amazing love for others and call to Christ. As I progressed in my artist life and my faith life, I realized that there are many, many people that are living saints. I realized that they had the same love for others and call to Christ.”
In developing his artistic style, he is continually inspired by the communion of saints and local Alaskan people of faith around him.
“One major influence on my artwork is my mom,” Doniere said. “She helps guide me through the art process when I do not know how to continue or where to stop. She gives me good feedback and is always encouraging.”
Doniere’s latest art series is titled, “Saints of The New Millennium, and reflects portraits of a variety of different people who lead saintly lives.
“I’m drawn to realistic portraits and icons. I’m amazed by the expressions on their faces,” he reflected. “There’s a quote printed in the upper room of Lumen Christi school by Saint John Paul II that says, ‘My dear young friends, do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium.’ My goal with this theme is to tell people we are all called to be saints, praise God, and love all people.”
When creating art, Doniere usually makes mixed media pieces.
“I find that with different media I can get the color intensity just where I want it,” he explained. “I work with lots of warm colors to portray the fire of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite quotes that makes me choose those colors is by Saint Catherine of Siena: ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’”
Doniere considers his art a kind of evangelism.
“I think it gives me the tools to proclaim the good news of Jesus to others,” he said. “It’s important to share the faith through beauty. It’s important to see all the good in the world and not only focus on evil. There are lots of amazing people out there who are making a positive impact in the world.”
The art also works on him.
“Sacred art is very important to me because it helps me to keep my mind on Christ,” Doniere noted. “I believe that sacred art is very important to the church as a whole because it helps inspire people to become more holy. St. Patrick’s Church (in Anchorage) has an amazing display of art. The cloister has beautiful sculptures and fountains. I feel that all parishes should have contemporary artists to inspire faith in the hearts of the people who go there.”