This is the 14th in a series of profiles of HNP friars celebrating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2010. The last issue of HNP Today featured Richard Husted, OFM.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When most teens are just figuring out what life is all about, Miguel Loredo, OFM, was busy setting the course for his life as a Franciscan and a painter.
“I discovered St. Francis of Assisi when I was 16 years old and realized this is what I wanted for my life,” said the Cuban-born friar by telephone from his home at St. Anthony Friary in Florida. “At the beginning, I wanted to be just a friar and not a priest. I never looked backwards. I have always looked forward.”
As a child, he taught himself to paint, and was later mentored by famed Cuban artist Rolando Lopez-Dirube. “I started when I was 3 or 4 years old. Before I was a priest or a friar, I was called a kid who painted.”
Painting and a life dedicated to God are one and the same for this talented friar, who celebrated 50 years as a Franciscan in June. “Years ago, I was told that I should choose between being a painter and being a friar.”
But Miguel found a way to combine his two passions, and today is known as a contemporary religious painter. “I can pray or I can paint,” said Miguel, who describes his style of artwork as lyric abstractionist. “It’s two wings of one bird — painting and praying. The more I paint, the more I talk to God,” said the 71-year-old friar. “God is beauty. The one who has painted all realities. When I paint, I’m also praying.”
Seeing the Beauty in Life
That’s how Miguel has lived his life, seeing beauty in everything, but it wasn’t always easy. After ordination in July 1964, in Spain, where he joined the Order in the Basque Province, he returned to Cuba a month later for pastoral work, only to be sentenced to 15 years in prison as a political prisoner by the anti-clerical Castro regime. He served 10 years.
“Having been sentenced to that length of time really didn’t bother me, because I felt that since I was a Franciscan, I was really now one of the poor,” Miguel was reported as saying. “Although I was innocent, there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to go forward and serve my time, so I put my faith in God.”
While in prison, he painted on scraps of paper and on the back of the few letters he was allowed to receive. He used coffee, iodine and dirt or ashes mixed with egg whites as a varnish. He also wrote poetry.
After his release from prison, Miguel went to Rome and worked on his craft some more. In 1987, he began to work with the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he continued his work as a Franciscan, painted and wrote poetry. He is a published author whose works include “Uno,” a collection of poetry, and has exhibited his paintings around the world. St. Bonaventure University and Siena College have been especially interested in showing his work over the years.
Ministry in New York City
In 991, Miguel found his way from Puerto Rico to the United States, where he officially transferred to Holy Name Province in 1994. Miguel spent 19 years of his ministry in New York City, where he worked at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan. He was Parochial Vicar there from 1995 to 2004. Some of his art and poetry convey his feelings after 9/11 in New York City and what he experienced with prostate cancer treatment. “I talked to God often,” he said. “I didn’t know if the cancer would kill me or not. I experienced many feelings, many hopes, many fears, and much trust in God.
How many paintings does he create a year? “Never less than 20 and never more than 40.” Many are on display in the friary dining and recreation rooms.
Miguel is grateful to James Toal, OFM, guardian of the St. Petersburg friary, who gave him studio space, and to all the friars who have encouraged him along the way.
He is also appreciative of his brothers in the Province. “I have taken from many friars many things. The friars all have a variety of qualities. When I was younger, I had friars who were my mentors. I choose different qualities from different friars.”
With one sister living in Miami, and a niece and nephew, Miguel always welcomes visitors to Florida, especially friars from New York.
“I like to live my life fully. I don’t look backwards too much. I am grateful to the Province. I am very happy to be a friar and to be here,” he said.
“I enjoy this life. It all has been a blessing.”
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. The next issues will feature John Kull, OFM, and Ronald Stark, OFM.