As a young man thinking of becoming a Carmelite priest, Brother Emanuel Franco Gomez had a decision to make: which of his passions to pursue?
The son of an accomplished painter and wedding dress designer, he dabbled in art and drawing, but preferred writing, publishing three books for children and young adults. But he also wrote music and played several instruments, including piano and guitar. And on top of all that, he felt a calling to the priestly ministry.
“God is calling me to minister in that border, in between the two cultures”
Brother Emanuel, 33, who is finishing his master of divinity at the School of Theology and Religious Studies, first entered the seminary at 18 but left to complete his degree in philosophy, while continuing to write and draw. Six years ago, “I had an opportunity to go for a degree in creative writing or come back to the Carmelites,” he said. “I was discerning that. I thought my primary vocation was as a religious or a priest.”
As he looks forward to ordination in his native Mexico at the end of May, it seems he didn’t really have to choose, after all.
“Our province has always been really good about supporting people with intellectual and artistic talents,” said Father Quinn Conners, Brother Emanuel’s prior and director of formation in the Carmelite order. The Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, to which both of them belong, recently donated $5 million to the School of Theology and Religious Studies to fund the Center for Carmelite Studies.
“He sees it very much as a ministry,” said Father Conners, “so he’s not just an artist who is going to be a priest, but a priest who is an artist. He sees it as part of his evangelizing role through his arts.”
Br. Emanuel recently completed the illustrations for the first official Spanish-language missal for the Catholic Church in the United States, to be published in May.
“I had received requests from my province to design cards and things like that, he said, “so I put a website together with my work.” And that led to a fateful email from Liturgical Press, asking him to submit sketches for the missal project. He thought it was joke, an indication more of his modesty than of his unworthiness for the task.
“I talked to some of my brothers and said who is doing this? This is not funny!” he said, laughing and shaking his head at the memory. “You do not get an email from a publishing company just like that.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Liturgical Press has since asked him to work on other projects, which he’ll do while teaching at the Carmelite Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson. It’s easy to imagine Brother Emanuel, who looks even younger than his years, connecting with teens in the classroom at a dual-language parish.
“God is calling me to minister in that border, in between the two cultures,” he said. “There is a great need in the U.S. to have ministers who can move from one side to the other. That’s been part of my discernment, my spiritual journey.”