Johan van Parys

Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts
Liturgy

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. 

Johan enjoys writing for Basilica publications as well as for other outlets. Since 1997 he has been the managing editor for Basilica, the award winning Basilica Magazine. His book Symbols That Surround Us was published in 2012. Johan teaches in the School of Theology at St. John’s University. He is the current chair and founding member of the MN chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgists and Societas Liturgica.

(612) 317-3434

Recent Posts by Johan van Parys

One of my favorite photos of The Basilica was taken by Mike Jensen. Positioned at Dunwoody College to the west of The Basilica, Mike photographed our beautiful building against the backdrop of the entire Minneapolis skyline. This photo not only affirms the importance of The Basilica’s physical and visual presence in our skyline, but even more importantly it symbolizes the role The Basilica plays in the day-to-day life of Minneapolis and beyond.

It may be surprising to know that before any religious service was held in the building, the city of Minneapolis and the greater metropolitan area came together to consider the importance of The Basilica for the city. This was done with a series of public lectures by local and national speakers in addition to a number of concerts given during November of 1914.

In regard to the civic dedication, Mgr. Reardon, long-time pastor of The Basilica, wrote in his 1955 book, Basilica of St. Mary of Minneapolis: “The general trend of the discourses was in harmony with the purpose of the civic celebration. The speakers emphasized the necessity of civic righteousness as the characteristic of the highest type of American citizenship. The learned and highly interesting lectures alluded to the new church as a center of civic betterment even before it was dedicated to the religious purpose for which it was erected.”

Today, more than one hundred years later, The Basilica of Saint Mary continues the legacy envisioned by the early members of our Church as we carry on their vision to seek “civic betterment” or in our current parlance as we “seek the well-being of the city.” This vision so near and dear to the heart of our community is inspired by the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (29:7) who encouraged the People of Israel saying: “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have sent you. Pray for it to the Lord. For in seeking its well-being you shall find your own.”

Much has changed since those first years in the life of The Basilica community, the city, and our world. However, our commitment to be good stewards of ourselves, our city, and our world has only become stronger. 

Our calling to “seek the well-being of the city” is a microcosm and metaphor for our broader Christian calling to seek the well-being of the entire world and everyone who lives in it. This may seem like a daunting task, but we might be encouraged by all that we already do if we were to evaluate our personal and communal life. 

This week we are called to cast our vote for the next president of the United States and many other civil servants. This is a task I take very seriously having just become a US citizen in 2008. This will be my third presidential election and I am anxious to vote. The image I will take with me in the voting booth is that of The Basilica against the backdrop of the City of Minneapolis. The words I will take with me are Mgr. Reardon’s call to “civic betterment” and the Prophet Isaiah’s appeal to “seek the well-being of the city.” I will let this image and these words guide my vote.

And when we awake on the morning of November 9, provided that you went to bed, may we clothe ourselves with the mantle of “civic righteousness as the characteristic of the highest type of American citizenship” no matter the outcome of the election.

“Come, Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts and our minds.”

My grandfather was a professional cyclist. I inherited many pictures of him riding his bike or standing on the winner’s podium. In one photo my grandfather models a hat. He looks quite stunning in his suit, overcoat and hat. A clumsily taped-on note claims that Jules Gurdebeke only wore this one kind of hat. The claim was true. This was indeed the only kind of hat he wore throughout his entire life. But why the note? When asked he admitted that this was an advertising experiment. He claimed he was a reluctant model, advertising his favorite hat. “It is not because I look good in the hat that others will too” he said. And yet, he did it. And he did it well.

I love this picture. I look at it often. The other day I was showing it to my relatives who were visiting from Belgium. All the sudden it struck me that in the same way as my grandfather somewhat reluctantly modeled the hat, I am a reluctant model of the Gospel.

Being a Christian is not always easy, especially today when religion is viewed with suspicion and believers are often considered naïve, antiquarians or worse, extremists. Surely, there are Christian extremists; there are Christians who long for by-gone times; and there are Christians who live a naïve rather than an enlightened faith.

So what are we to do as a community of believers? Do we close our doors and our hearts as we hunker down with like-minded people? Do we allow ourselves to be scared into believing that those who are different from us are intent on destroying us and our cherished traditions? Or do we embrace the reality of our diverse and complicated world and open ourselves up to dialogue and fruitful co-existence?

Our Christian faith commands us to engage in the latter. Fear is not a Christian virtue, neither is fear mongering. We are called to speak of hope and bear witness to love for our message is the message of the Gospel or the “Good News” and not the “Bad News.”

I keep the photo of my grandfather on my desk. It reminds me that though he was a reluctant model of hats, he did it and he did it well. Likewise, though I may be a reluctant messenger of the Gospel, I am called to do it and to do it well. And as I look at my grandfather’s picture I think, Christianity is the hat I wear. Sometimes it fits comfortably, other times it seems too big or too small. Nevertheless, I keep wearing it for it is the only hat I can wear. And like my grandfather, I am fine with others wearing other hats since not everyone looks good in the same hat.

Her hand shows the marks of time: arthritis, wrinkles, veins, cuts and bruises. Her hand is open, extended and inviting. A gesture which is reflective of the mission she serves. This is the hand of a woman who has lived a long life, a dedicated life. This is the hand of a woman who has served the church for many, many years. This is the hand of a woman, convinced that she can continue to contribute to the church despite old age and even beyond death.

Nestled in her hand is a simple rosary, seemingly made of olive wood. It is the string of beads she has fingered thousands upon thousands of times as prayers passed her lips. This rosary was probably passed on to her from another sister as most everything else she uses. Her prayers build upon her sister’s prayers stringing years and years of prayer together. It is this rosary she faithfully returns to at the end of the day. It is this rosary she purposefully reaches for during difficult times. It is this rosary she happily cradles during times of joy. Her dedication to prayer keeps her centered. It keeps her rooted. It allows her to stay the sacred course she embarked on when she took her religious vows.

In this image the rosary is not used for prayer, rather the rosary gently placed in her hand is a form of evangelization. A worn rosary in the hand of an elderly woman speaks to the power of prayer. Without saying a word she shows the rosary as if inviting us to take it from her so we too may enter into the saving chain of prayer. This is her legacy: prayer saves! It is what she hopes to pass on to each one of us.

Though somewhat out of focus we can see the pectoral cross she is wearing around her neck. She received it at her profession and has worn it ever since. The cross has given her direction for all these years and continues to do so today. The cross in this image quietly testifies to the love of God for us and it calls us to love one another in turn.  If the rosary invites us to prayer, the cross calls us to love and action. Prayer and love are the two great tenets of our life as Christians: we pray so we may love. This is the mandate Jesus gave us the night before he died when he told us to celebrate the Eucharist and wash one another's feet.

We don’t know her name and we need not know her name for she embodies the millions of women who have carried the church through their prayer and their actions. They are the women who have prayed for our needs, hidden behind the walls of their monasteries or in plain view in our streets. They are the women who have staffed our schools and universities where they have taught our children. They are the women who have worked in our hospitals where they have cared for our sick and our elderly.

They may wear veils instead of miters and they may carry books rather than crosiers but they are the ones who have shaped and molded so many of us into the people we are today. Their impact on our church is beyond measure. We simply would not be who we are as a people and as a church without them.

This image is a quiet testimony to the great work God is accomplishing through our religious and through all women in our church.

 

 

Nestled in the north-west corner between The Basilica, the sacristy and the rectory sits The Basilica’s Mary Garden, a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered or discovered anew. Last Saturday, Karen Harrison and Wanda Sweeney were busy at work in the garden tidying it up in anticipation of the beginning of the month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Mother. They tend the garden lovingly and faithfully all year long.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is one of only a handful of churches in the United States that has a true Mary Garden. Often people mistakenly think that any garden with a statue of Mary in it is a Mary Garden. Rather, they are much more complex than that and mostly void of a statue.

Mary Gardens originated in Medieval France and its surrounding countries. The basic concept is an enclosed garden known as a hortus conclusus referencing the virginity of Mary. Each flower in the garden represents one of Mary’s virtues. The Lily, e.g. represents Mary’s purity; the Bleeding Heart represents Mary’s sorrow; Solomon’s Seal represents Mary’s wisdom;  Gilly Flower represents Mary’s fidelity; and Violets represent Mary’s modesty, to name but a few. The Garden as a whole thus symbolizes Mary with all her strengths and virtues.

Mary Gardens traditionally do not have a statue of Mary in them as the garden itself is intended to be a representation of Mary. And different from praying before a statue of Mary, believers enter the garden and aided by the colors and fragrance of the flowers they spiritually immerse themselves in Mary’s virtues while praying that her virtues may become theirs. 

The idea for a Mary Garden at The Basilica of Saint Mary was proposed by the Friends of the Basilica of Saint Mary, now known as The Basilica Landmark. After years of study and planning The Basilica’s Mary Garden became reality in 1997. Staying as true as possible to the medieval concept, the original design was done by Stacy Moriarty of Moriarty/Cordon. Given the difference in climate and the specifics of the shady location of our garden the traditional selection of plants did not thrive. Thus, after careful consideration and with due respect to the original design, the Garden was enhanced in 2008 with the help of Brad Agee of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota to include more hardy plants. Standing in the tradition of those who assigned Mary’s virtues to the original selection of plants, Mary Ritten recognized and described Marian virtues in the newly selected plants, more suited for our Minnesota winters.

The Basilica’s Mary Garden thus is a reinterpretation of the traditional French Mary Garden adapted to our Minnesota weather, no less inspired and no less inspirational. To give but a few examples, sweet autumn clematis, a vigorous vine speaks to Mary’s tenacity and courage while facing her many trials. The yellow flowers in Mary’s Mantle remind us of the radiance of Mary as a source of consolation. The roses are a clear reference to Mary’s title in the Litany of Loretto as Rosa Mystica or Mystical Rose.

Though originally intended to have no representation of Mary in the Garden, Beckoning, a bronze sculpture by Gloria Tew was installed in the garden in the year 2000. This was in response to multiple requests for a statue of Mary. However, in order to be true to the original concept of a Mary Garden the sculpture is semi-abstract and intentionally ambiguous.

Her placement in the garden and the way she holds her hands can indeed be interpreted as Mary inviting us in. It may also be understood as a more abstract representation of hospitality and invitation. Regardless of whom you might think she is, her goal and ours is that you enter the Mary Garden especially during this month of May dedicated to Mary and spend some time in it. Inspired by its beauty we invite you to meditate on the virtues of Mary represented by the flowers in the garden and to pray that her virtues may become yours.

Nestled in the north-west corner between The Basilica, the sacristy, and the rectory sits The Basilica’s Mary Garden, a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered or discovered anew. Last Saturday, Karen Harrison and Wanda Sweeney were busy at work in the garden tidying it up in anticipation of the beginning of the month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Mother. They tend the garden lovingly and faithfully all year long. 

The Basilica of Saint Mary is one of only a handful of churches in the United States that has a true Mary Garden. Often people mistakenly think that any garden with a statue of Mary in it is a Mary Garden. Rather, they are much more complex than that and mostly void of a statue.

Mary Gardens originated in Medieval France and its surrounding countries. The basic concept is an enclosed garden known as a hortus conclusus referencing the virginity of Mary. Each flower in the garden represents one of Mary’s virtues. The Lily, e.g. represents Mary’s purity; the Bleeding Heart represents Mary’s sorrow; Solomon’s Seal represents Mary’s wisdom; Gilly Flower represents Mary’s fidelity; and Violets represent Mary’s modesty, to name but a few. The Garden as a whole thus symbolizes Mary with all her strengths and virtues. 

Mary Gardens traditionally do not have a statue of Mary in them as the garden itself is intended to be a representation of Mary. And different from praying before a statue of Mary, believers enter the garden and, aided by the colors and fragrance of the flowers, they spiritually immerse themselves in Mary’s virtues while praying that her virtues may become theirs.  

The idea for a Mary Garden at The Basilica of Saint Mary was proposed by the Friends of the Basilica of Saint Mary, now known as The Basilica Landmark. After years of study and planning, The Basilica’s Mary Garden became reality in 1997. Staying as true as possible to the medieval concept, the original design was done by Stacy Moriarty of Moriarty/Cordon. Given the difference in climate and the specifics of the shady location of our garden, the traditional selection of plants did not thrive. Thus, after careful consideration and with due respect to the original design, the Garden was enhanced in 2008 with the help of Brad Agee of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota to include more hardy plants. Standing in the tradition of those who assigned Mary’s virtues to the original selection of plants, Mary Ritten recognized and described Marian virtues in the newly selected plants, more suited for our Minnesota winters. 

The Basilica’s Mary Garden thus is a reinterpretation of the traditional French Mary Garden adapted to our Minnesota weather, no less inspired and no less inspirational. To give but a few examples, sweet autumn clematis, a vigorous vine speaks to Mary’s tenacity and courage while facing her many trials. The yellow flowers in Mary’s Mantle remind us of the radiance of Mary as a source of consolation. The roses are a clear reference to Mary’s title in the Litany of Loretto as Rosa Mystica or Mystical Rose. 

Though originally intended to have no representation of Mary in the Garden, Beckoning, a bronze sculpture by Gloria Tew was installed in the garden in the year 2000. This was in response to multiple requests for a statue of Mary. However, in order to be true to the original concept of a Mary Garden, the sculpture is semi-abstract and intentionally ambiguous. 

Her placement in the garden and the way she holds her hands can indeed be interpreted as Mary inviting us in. It may also be understood as a more abstract representation of hospitality and invitation. Regardless of who you might think she is, her goal and ours is that you enter the Mary Garden especially during this month of May dedicated to Mary and spend some time in it. Inspired by its beauty, we invite you to meditate on the virtues of Mary represented by the flowers in the garden and to pray that her virtues may become yours.

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