Priest called ‘Michelangelo of the Midwest’ for elaborate church paintings

HOMER GLEN, Ill. — Torn between his passion for art and a calling to the priesthood, a south suburban pastor found a way to combine them both.

Father Thomas Loya is pastor at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church believes going into a church is like "entering into heaven on Earth." His church is no exception, where the walls are covered in ornate iconography.

"We try to make it as glorious as possible, from floor to ceiling, every square inch is transmitting our faith," Loya said. "When I look at it all, I can’t quite believe that I did it all.”

That’s right, father Loya is not only the pastor, but also the painter behind an extraordinary body of work meant to overwhelm and inspire those that walk through its doors.

“We want this whole place, inside and out to be a place where people can come and somehow sense God’s peace, somehow have a sense of God,” Loya said.

Using traditional byzantine symbols and patterns, he's basically painted to story of the Bible from the Old Testament to the new, although he is allowed a certain amount of freedom as an artist.

He says art has always been a passion, and he even majored in art in college. But coming from a deeply religious family where his grandfather and great-grandfather were priests, he says he felt the call to serve God as well. A year after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, Loya entered the seminary.

In the summer of 1999, he was presented with a unique opportunity: church leaders put the blank walls of a newly-built church in Homer Glen in his hands. With the help of a few assistants, he transformed the ceiling, arches and walls into a liturgy of faith. Some compare it to the work on the Sistine Chapel, which is also the work of his favorite artist, Michelangelo.

“I’m very humbled by that, I could probably clean his brushes, maybe that’s about it, but I appreciate the compliment,” Loya said.

While he’s not comfortable being called the "Michelangelo of the Midwest," Father Loya is still tinkering and touching up images he started nearly 20 years ago.

He said real churches are never truly done, because as soon as you finish painting them, "you start restoring them."

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.