Divine Inspiration

Painting is akin to prayer for Elk Grove priest

By Jessica Laskey
January 2024

Painting is not just painting for the Rev. Sylvester Kwiatkowski. As a priest at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Elk Grove, Kwiatkowski sees painting as a form of prayer and a connection to himself, his community and God.

“Art helps me communicate and have contact not only with Christian people, but also people of different faiths and non-believers about universal values: love, compassion, hope, friendship, unity,” Kwiatkowski says.

Kwiatkowski has always been drawn to art, even before being ordained in 1989 in his native Poland. He loved drawing as a small child. When he went on vacation to Paris, Madrid, London and Moscow, he visited museums to study his favorite artists, among them Salvador Dalí and Vincent Van Gogh.

“My dream was always to somehow at some point in my life grab the palette, acrylic and brushes and do whatever my heart tells me to do,” he says.

The dream took time. Kwiatkowski left Poland for California in 2000 to work with Polish immigrants who were part of Solidarity, the Polish social movement. He worked as a chaplain for a small Polish Catholic chapel in North Sacramento. At a 30-day silent retreat in Massachusetts in 2012, divine inspiration struck.

“On the third day of the retreat, an unknown power brought me to the art room, and through my feelings and emotions, I started drawing on a piece of paper,” he writes in his artist’s statement. “When I presented my artwork to my spiritual director, he strongly encouraged me to continue my emotional outlet through art. On that day, I was not aware that it would be the beginning of my new creative journey towards art.”

His calling to “describe the movement of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit with colors and shapes” led him to an art supply store in Grass Valley, where he bought what his heart told him. In October 2012, he “threw everything on the floor and started to paint.”

Kwiatkowski was practicing intuitive painting, where an artist removes self-judgment from the equation and paints what comes to mind. For the priest, riotous color and movement and shapes came pouring out through various mediums, including watercolor, acrylic and collage.

He began incorporating his artwork into Mass, painting a particular piece as a way to enrich the readings and gospel. His congregations in North Sacramento and Elk Grove, where he moved in 2019, responded well. “They didn’t know how powerful paintings could be,” he says, until they saw them up on the dais alongside their priest.

“My friend (artist) Kathy Dana said to me once, ‘If you are using words to evangelize people, why not colors and shapes and paintings?’” Kwiatkowski recalls.

It’s tough to make time to paint, but Kwiatkowski finds 15 minutes late at night or early in the morning to create. The silence allows space to “be connected with yourself, with God, with eternity, and then the colors and shapes flow,” he says.

His paintings grace his office and the church. His nearly 6-foot painting of a monstrance—a vessel in which the consecrated eucharistic host is carried or displayed—is on view in preparation for the 10th National Eucharistic Congress in 2024. He donates paintings to fundraisers to help local organizations and ministries.

“Painting brings you to a completely different reality,” Kwiatkowski says. “It can heal your trauma, increase your creativity and intuition. It brings hope and the joy of life.”

To view Kwiatkowski’s work, visit his Instagram @skwiat.art.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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