by FR. FRANK SABATTÉ
by FR. FRANK SABATTÉ
Frank Sabatté is a Paulist
Fathers priest and a random-stitch portrait embroiderer who heads up an arts
collective in NYC called Openings.
“Openings believes that the connections between creativity and transcendence
foster critical conversations that have the potential to unite individuals
across cultural divides.”
at the College of Fine Arts, UCLA. That was when he got to know
the Paulist Fathers at the Newman Center.
how human they were. They were real, and they were amazing preachers. One
priest in particular, Fr. Ken McGuire, became my spiritual director and eventually,
a dear friend. He had an amazingly brilliant mind. We formed a community, a
bunch of us. I’m 64. So I went through the old church.
Fathers, was ordained in 1980, and spent
26 years at various assignments:
Connecticut, Berkeley, UC San Diego, Tucson.
Fathers said, “Why don’t you go to our mother hosue in NY and try to get
something together with artists?” I didn’t like the idea of living in New York at all! I’m a Californian. But in 2006
He started by meeting with a young
parishioner, a convert who wanted to start something for artists. They “kind of
brainstormed.” He also started to visit artists, particularly young-adult open
studios at the major NYC schools. He’d simply go out, chat, meet people. As a
devout introvert, that was a challenge.
collar because I believe that what a priest wears is not for him but for the
people he serves. Fr. Isaac Hecker, our founder, said a Paulist should dress
like a gentleman of the time.
was basically, “I’ve got to get this program going.” Then, I had this
experience with a young artist. We were talking, and in the back of my mind I
was thinking “Maybe I could get her to join my group.” And after I left, it hit
me like a thunderbolt. I thought “She knew that I had an agenda. She knew that
my program was what mattered.” So I dropped it. From then on the program didn’t
matter. What mattered was the person standing in front of me.
“What does it mean?” I say, “What’s pulling you? What’s sparking inside of you?
What’s nudging you?” And then we get to talking. And then I introduce myself. I
say, “My name is Frank. I’m an artist and a Catholic priest. And then the conversation can continue.
discussion group at St. Paul the Apostle, the third largest church in Manhattan.
That first group went up and down and then died. Fr. Sabatté had expected as
much. But they’d already built up a network. And in spite of the fact that most
of the young adults he’d met were very nervous about the institutional church,
they’d already had three very successful exhibits.
huge. We put the art in the side chapels.
The first event, in 2006, was with eight artists. At the second
reception the following year we had sixteen artists. In 2011, we had
twenty-four artists and 800 at the reception. Young artists, hipster types,
parishioners, Catholics, ex-Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists. And we all hung out. Food,
is conversion, which is different from proselytizing. In a conversation, the
Spirit will change both of us.
changes. On sabbatical in L.A., he went with a friend to the Cathedral of Our
Lady of the Angels. Inside he saw the tapestries of the saints by John Nava.
to do something like this. I did some research, and discovered a form of
Chinese embroidery, developed in the ‘20’s, called random-stitch embroidery. The
layered stitches, all painstakingly done by hand, are often used for portraiture.
methods, and acquired a machine with an adjustable stitch. He begins by
tracing the design from a photograph, then drawing it free-hand on canvas.
priests I lived with. But I didn’t want to just do “religious” art. “Cambodia,
1975,” is a young girl based on a photograph taken by the Khmer Rouge. They
used to photograph their victims before they tortured and killed them. This
maybe thirteen-year-old girl seems to look right through you.
strong, sensitive young woman you might spot riding home on a city bus. He’s
done Bathsheba, an interracial couple named Joey and Lisa, and “Sweat Shop
Girl.” He’s done Fr. Isaac Hecker and his own wry, bow-tied father.
artist lives in the constant tension between solitude and community. “Openings”
begins to bridge the gap.
|NUMBER 24 CAMBODIA 1975
by FR. FRANK SABATTÉ