Actually, his name was Gregory Wietrzychowski (as in "watch your house key," he would humorously explain.) But everyone at the Abbey called him Gregory the Painter, where he was an enduring, if sometimes irregular, presence over the past several years, painting on his knees in the Crypt, hour after painstaking hour.
I do not know the details of his life or how he came to take on the major work of reproducing a major piece of Renaissance art for the Benedictine monks at Clear Creek, but from all accounts he was a serious and devout Catholic. Clearly, his faith beautifully informed his art.
Gregory the Pilgrim was the perfect subject for human interest stories in the local papers. You can read fascinating online articles about this gentle bear of a man who traveled the world, painting beautifully on sidewalks in Paris and Rome, and who in 2016 visited 150 Marian shrines and churches in reparation for sin, traveling like a medieval penitent on foot, trusting fully (and foolishly, some might say) on Divine Providence and in particular on Our Lady, "Searcher of the Lost." She never let him down. Then, he returned to Clear Creek once again, to work on his magnum opus. Gregory the Pilgrim became Gregory the Painter.
Last week, after a sudden sneak attack of the dread coronavirus while traveling out of state, Gregory embarked on what would be his final pilgrimage.
While we mourn the loss of a unique and talented artist, a faithful son of the Church who spent his final months creating something meant to inspire and uplift those who saw it, perhaps the uncolored figures will remind us of the souls of the saints who, though invisible to human eyes, are with us always in spirit, accompanying us our long and arduous journey home.
May they remind us of Gregory himself. And may he rest in peace.
The opinions expressed on this website are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the Catholic Church.
If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.