Pauline Spirit

The book that launched a thousand talks…
February 19, 2009, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I really regret not having posted this sooner: Sister Armanda’s wonderful book came out on time for the Conversion of St. Paul, and I am only now putting it on this resource page. And this was the manuscript that inspired me to do my own research and presenting on the life and legends of Paul in art! Here’s the book–and the story behind it.

For years she ran the presses, printing books by the thousands. Her practiced eye scrutinized the sheets as they glided from the rollers of offset presses the size of tractor-trailers. She had to check that the print was clear and the colors sharp and true–especially important when reproducing masterpiece art. Now Sister Armanda Santos, FSP, of Redwood City, has a new book to show for her labors, but this time, she is the author.

“Facing the Apostle: Paul’s Image in Art”–a meditative look at the life of Paul through the lens of Christian art–was released, appropriately enough, during the Jubilee Year of the Apostle’s birth. Sr. Armanda says that her intention was “to allow Paul’s iconography to reveal something of his personality and inner life.” One appreciative reviewer, Rodolfo Papa (Professor of the History of Aesthetic Theory, Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome) commented “….This book shows in a fascinating way the real and everlasting connection between art and spirituality.”

Sister Armanda’s admiration of St. Paul began long before the Pauline Jubilee was announced. It could be said that Sister really “met” Paul during her initial formation in the religious congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul, which she entered in 1971.  “My favorite aspect of St. Paul is his humanness. I like to emphasize that aspect to people who feel intimidated by him.” But while Paul established communities, the Daughters of St. Paul established publishing houses and book centers “to help the individual person encounter Christ,” Santos explains. Sister Armanda worked the publishing house presses even as a postulant and novice, and was eventually made head of the pressroom at Pauline Books and Media, Boston, before being tapped for roles as a superior and Provincial Councilor. The ministry she kept coming back to, however, was in the Pauline book centers. “I love book center ministry. I find that it is a wonderful way to reach people in a very personal manner,” Santos says. “Being in the marketplace creates a non-threatening environment for people to come in and encounter Christ in his Word by what they read, in the music, in the chapel and even in our presence.”

Through the years, she collected images of the community’s patron saint. “The iconography of Paul is huge,” she commented, “hundreds of depictions from every era and every type of medium: icons, oil, polychrome…”

After several terms in leadership, including service on a province-wide level (the network of Pauline communities across the U.S. and English-speaking Canada), Sister Santos welcomed the opportunity to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theology. While stationed in Culver City, CA, she began a program at Loyola-Marymount, but transferred to the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, where she would be near enough to help care for her mother in San Leandro. (The Santos family came to the Bay area from the Azores when Sister Armanda was eleven years old.)  A stimulating course on St. Paul, and Sister’s long-standing interest in the language and symbols of Christian art naturally inspired the direction her graduate studies took. She found  her favorite images of Paul and began to craft a thesis around them. “I built chapters around the pictures I really  liked,” Santos admits. “Then I had to choose others in order to tell the whole life of Paul from beginning to end.”

The life of Paul, beginning with his oft-depicted conversion, provides the framework for the entire book. Opening with a relevant Scripture passage, each of the 13 chapters is built around a single work of art, with an overall description of the piece and of the artist (when known), the circumstances of its creation and an interesting analysis of its unique details. From this, Santos offers a deep and informative reflection on one aspect of the life and teachings of the Apostle, allowing the artwork to once more illustrate Paul’s thought and spirituality. A concluding prayer, composed by the author’s sister, Sister Germana Santos, FSP, allows the reader to enter into Paul’s own spirit of prayer, and makes the book even more useful for group use. (An appendix also provides discussion questions.)

“Facing the Apostle” could be used as a guide in a study of Christian art (from the masterpieces of Raphael and Rembrandt to the work of anonymous iconographers) or for a course on the life and letters of Paul. The entire book is printed on high-quality paper that brings out the best in images. Its fine reproductions make “Facing the Apostle” an ideal gift book for RCIA or ordination.
Sister Santos is currently stationed in Redwood City, CA. Her community’s Pauline Bookstore hosts her ongoing presentations on the language of Christian symbols.

Paperback / 144 pages / Dimensions: 6″ x 9″ / ISBN: 0819826839
Retail Price: $16.95
Pauline Books & Media, Boston