By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Deacon C. Robert Markert’s ministry in the Catholic Church and his work as an artist flow seamlessly, one into the other.
Deacon Markert is one of the permanent deacons at Incarnation Church and one of 137 ordained deacons in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
He’s also a stained-glass artist and sculptor, recently named a fellow of the Stained Glass Association of America (SGAA).
As a young man, Deacon Markert entered seminary thinking he’d one day become a priest. He graduated from St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in 1963 with a degree in philosophy.
Following graduation, he taught for a year at Guardian Angels School before the art world beckoned. In 1964 he took a position at Louisville Art Glass Inc., pouring himself fully into his work as an artist. In 1969 Deacon Markert opened Fenestra Studios Inc., which he operated until 1986.
Though Deacon Markert didn’t pursue priesthood, his formation at St. Meinrad remained a “great part” of him, he said.
Thirteen years after graduating from St. Meinrad, in 1976, Deacon Markert was among the first group of men to be ordained to the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The diaconate was part of the early church but had disappeared over centuries,
becoming a step toward priesthood ordination. It was restored as a permanent order in 1967 by Pope Paul VI and reinstated in the United States in 1971. The Archdiocese of Louisville ordained its first class in 1976.
Deacons are called to administer certain sacraments, witness to the faith and serve the church in charity.
Over the course of his career, Deacon Markert has borne witness to his faith with the creation of stained-glass windows for some 500 churches — including St. Martha Church, which contains several of his windows.
He’s also taken his gifts to the secular world, collaborating with Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton since the 1970s. They have worked on multiple pieces, including a bronze sculpture of York — the slave who was a part of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s — that stands on the Belvedere Plaza in downtown Louisville.
Deacon Markert said he considers it a “blessing” to be able to make a living as an artist and to do work that “supports the worship of others and gives insight into the mystery of God.”
“My art is a continuation of my ministry. It’s seamless,” said Deacon Markert during an interview June 1.
Deacon Markert said his stained-glass art is an “expression” of his faith and his personal journey.
“Some windows are filled with joy and some windows are filled with pain,” he said.
Despite his health, which has been failing, Deacon Markert still finds time for art and his ministry, which includes his role as a chaplain for Catholic Cemeteries.
Deacon Markert said that conducting burials and prayer services, especially for infants, is “the most enriching experience of ministry, though it’s difficult,” he said.
Deacon Markert has experienced the pain of losing two infants in his own family. He holds a regular prayer service for infants who have died at Calvary Cemetery.
During difficult times, his art sees him through, he said. He believes that creativity “brings about the presence of God” in his life. He prays as he creates, he said, something he learned while studying iconography under an orthodox monk. The words of the Jesus Prayer are always on his lips as he creates his works of art.
Creativity also leads to gratitude, said Deacon Markert. “I often look at a design after I’m done and I say ‘Thank you God.’ It’s the same thing with ministry. When I’m working with people I find myself saying ‘Thank you God.’ ”
His work as a stained-glass artist has also “enriched” his faith tremendously, said Deacon Markert, noting that in addition to churches, he has created works for synagogues across the country.
When he’s commissioned to create a window, part of his process is to worship with that faith community, be it Catholic or not. That window, he said, is like a “child” and he needs to know where it’s going.
This process also helps him, he said, to be more “in tune” with the community’s faith and who they are. This helps him in practical ways as he designs and creates, but in spiritual ways as well, he noted.
“When I experience another faith tradition worship, I’m getting schooled and enriched by the spirit there,” he said.
Deacon Markert and the other deacons in his class are likened to pioneers by Deacon Dennis Nash, director of the diaconate office.
“These guys were the pioneers who said, ‘Yes,’ to a vocation that was still in its infancy” in 1976, said Deacon Nash.
“We of the diaconate community stand on the shoulders of these men who had the courage to say yes to something that the church had not seen since the middle centuries.”
Deacon Nash said Deacon Markert’s work as an artist and his ministry exemplify the deacon’s charism, which a deacon is called to live out in every aspect of his life.
When most people think of a deacon, said Deacon Nash, they think of him on the altar or doing works of charity. They don’t always understand the work of the deacon in the workplace, however.
A deacon lives out his charism in his home life, his ministry and work life, said Deacon Nash.
“We can’t disconnect ourself from the relationship with Christ. It enhances every aspect of our lives,” he said. “I’m not surprised that Deacon Markert sees his work (as an artist) as an outpouring of his faith.”
That may be true for most deacons, noted Deacon Nash.
He said that one of the gifts of the diaconate is that deacons are in the “public sector by our very vocations.”
“The fact that we’re there as a servant is an expression of the church in the world,” he noted.
When reflecting on how Deacon Markert and other deacons have enriched the Archdiocese of Louisville, Deacon Nash said, “We all have many gifts. How we’re called to live out those gifts in building God’s kingdom is as unique as the diversity God created. The common thread is Jesus Christ. Deacons are called to live out their lives in the person of Christ.”
Deacon Markert will be honored on Aug. 1 in Raleigh, N.C., by the SGAA, an organization that “works for the betterment of the craft of stained glass and architectural art glass through various programs,” according to its website.
Being named a fellow is a recognition of the length of service to the SGAA and an artist’s body of work.
Though Deacon Markert served on the SGAA’s board and as a teacher and executive director of the organization’s school, he said he was “in disbelief” when he found out he was being honored. “I didn’t feel worthy,” he said. “I’m still learning.”
Doing stained-glass art, however, is where Deacon Markert says he “belongs.” “If you have a passion for something and after 54 years you still have a passion for it, you know something is right.”
Deacon Markert has been married to his wife Patsy for more than 50 years. They have four children and 12 grandchildren. To learn more about Deacon Markert’s art visit fenestraarts.com.