VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University Augustinian Rev. Richard G. Cannuli, OSA, MFA, has been creating art as part of his spiritual journey for most of his life. He has designed stained glass windows, icons, mosaics, sanctuary furniture and liturgical vestments for worship spaces in the United States and abroad. His works – from watercolors to egg tempera – have been exhibited in solo and group shows around the world. There’s one project, however, that stands out from the rest.
As the Order of St. Augustine prepared for its General Chapter assembly in Rome last month, the Vatican announced an unexpected and exciting start to the meeting: Pope Francis would say the opening Mass at the Basilica of St. Augustine. The liturgy officially launched the Augustinian leaders’ convocation at which a new prior General is elected and goals are set for the next six years. Around 100 Augustinians from around the world gathered in Rome for this year’s assembly.
“When I heard that the Holy Father was celebrating the opening liturgy, I contacted The Father General, Most Rev. Robert Prevost, OSA (now prior general emeritus), with the suggestion of the Order giving Pope Francis an icon as a gift,” said Fr. Cannuli, who is also a professor in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the curator and director of the Villanova University Art Gallery.
“Knowing that he would rather have a gift that did not cost a lot of money, I thought an icon would be appropriate,” he continued. “I received a ‘yes’ within almost 20 minutes.”
With that, Fr. Cannuli got to work and began the 22-step process of writing an icon. The icon of St. Augustine was finished and brought to Rome. Titled “San Augustin de Hippo,” in the native Spanish of Pope Francis, it was presented to the Pope by Cardinal Prospero Grech, OSA, and Father General Prevost on August 28.
For Fr. Cannuli, the time-honored and precise process of creating an image of Christ, Mother of God, or a Roman Catholic saint signifies his spiritual journey as an Augustinian. Many years ago, the making of classical icons in the Russian tradition helped Fr. Cannuli to reevaluate his vocation as an Augustinian Brother.
“In the process of reading the icons, looking, studying and understanding them, I came into communion with them. This raised the question of my spirituality – where I was going, what I was doing. That’s how I started to reconsider the fact that maybe I should move forward,” he said. Fr. Cannuli was ordained into the priesthood in 1999.
Fr. Cannuli is a certified liturgical design consultant who has planned worship spaces for numerous religious communities. He has exhibited his work in Italy, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic, Belarus, Greece, China and Russia, as well as throughout the United States. His art and teaching span diverse mediums – oil painting, printmaking and mosaic, among others – and all are inspired by a deep devotion to religion and prayer.
As one of only two Augustinian Catholic higher education institutions in the United States – and the only Augustinian University – Villanova is steeped in the tradition of art as a symbol of spirituality. In his role as curator of the Villanova University Art Gallery Fr. Cannuli oversees the care of the University’s 9,000-piece art collection and organizes art exhibits that are open to the public in the University’s Connelly Center. He has been a member of Villanova’s faculty since 1979.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.