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Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis
Christopher Santer, an art teacher at Providence Academy in Plymouth, works on his newest saint drawing – St. Dominic. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Local artist creates images of holy men and women for seminary, NET

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

Seminarians at the St. Paul Seminary can’t help but connect with the saints.

Long before they hear their first lecture about one of them, they experience the saints coming to life first hand.

Outside the door of every dorm room at the seminary is a framed pencil drawing of a saint. All were done by Christopher Santer, an art teacher at Providence Academy in Plymouth who was commissioned to do saints drawings 11 years ago, first by NET Ministries and later by the seminary starting in 2008. He has done a total of 78 for the seminary, and 15 to 20 for NET.

Though he considers architectural and landscape art his forté, he felt drawn to doing these portraits. He wanted to render them in as lifelike a manner as possible so that they would become real to the viewer.

“I always want these saints to be alive, as if we could meet them on the street,” said Santer, 46. “That’s a goal. I want them to seem like real people, like they’re going to come out and talk to you at that moment.”

Realistic flavor

He doesn’t necessarily stray from the artistic tradition that has created familiar facial features of the saints over time. Rather, he adds realism so that people can connect to the saints’ human side.

“I definitely have my favorite ones, the ones that are the most alive to me visually,” he said. “My John the Baptist is ready to evangelize right off the page. He has a gritty, penetrating gaze on his face. . . . He was a man who lived outside in the wild. He had to be ragged and scraggly and intense. You think of his preaching and how he transformed society with his mouth, with God working through him. He had to have this intensity to him. He was not a passive hermit-like creature. He was a guy who would look through you.”

Santer’s most recent drawing is of St. Maria Goretti, an Italian girl who was killed by a neighbor when she was 11 while resisting his attempts to rape her. While dying, she forgave her attacker, and he ended up attending her canonization in 1950.

“I think ones I’ve really been surprised by, and they’ve been some of the more recent ones that I’ve drawn, are some of these very young saints,” Santer said. “These are good saints for the youth, to know that you can live a saintly life now.”

After doing research that takes anywhere from an hour to five or six, Santer goes to work with his black pencil. The drawings take up to 12 hours to complete. They all are made to fit into an 8x10 frame, and both the seminary and NET have originals on display. He also has prints for sale. Those interested in any of his images can visit his website,

Naturally, Santer has saints images on display at his St. Paul home. He also has done drawings of his 2-year-old daughter, Victoria, but insists that the face of his wife, Leah, does not appear on any of the drawings of female saints.

“Some people keep saying that my St. Cecilia is Leah, but she’s not,” he said. “You know where she is in [some of the drawings], though? All the female hands are Leah’s, and all the male hands, in most cases, are mine.”

Now, Leah can walk the halls of the seminary to look at the images. She started working at the seminary in June, and has become an admirer of her husband’s work, along with many others, including Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the St. Paul Seminary.

“The seminary is blessed to have Christopher Santer’s art throughout our residential wing,” said Msgr. Callaghan, who has a print of one of them, Aloysius  Gonzaga, in his office. “His simple but beautiful renderings of these important saints are inspirational to our seminarians.

“Religious art is meant to lift our thoughts toward the Lord, and Christopher has been able to illustrate each saint’s story in his work. As our men pray and ask for the intercession of the communion of saints throughout their formation, these visual images bring them closer to the Lord. It is as if his artwork is reminding us to pray, ‘All you holy men and women, pray for us.’”

Santer is hoping his drawings of saints someday will grace the halls of Providence Academy. He has brought in a few to show his art students, and a handful of teachers have taken them inside their classrooms.

“Eventually, I’d like to get a bunch of them scattered around this school,” he said. “I’m not sure where. I’ll have to ask [headmaster] Todd [Flanders] about that.”

Sounds like a saintly idea.