By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
There’s a rhythm to his work.
A repetition that allows the artist to step away from the hustle and bustle of busy days, losing himself in the meditative monotony of the routine. Piece by piece, moment by moment, all quietly coming together to create something beautiful.
“It does give me joy. She is so beautiful,” said Father Jason Cargo, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Richardson, as he looks over the progress on his mosaic art image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “To think that I was able to somehow create this one little piece at a time, it fills me with joy and gratitude.”
For Father Cargo, who began this most recent mosaic project on Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, seeing his vision come together caps an eventful 12 months.
Father Cargo, 45, learned in December 2019 he had an aortic root aneurysm that would require him to have open heart surgery on March 3, 2020. While the fatality risk for the procedure was low, the priest acknowledged that it served as a bit of a solemn moment.
“For me, it was a clear understanding of mortality. I went into the procedure at peace with God and ready to meet him,” he said.
The surgery was successful, but he began his road to recovery only to have his return hampered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even that, however, could not keep Father Cargo from sharing his faith with the Richardson parish. Less than two weeks after his surgery, he celebrated his first Mass which he recorded from his parents’ home and uploaded online. It would be a precursor of things to come with the pandemic forcing churches to close their doors to the public.
“I started celebrating daily Mass from that point forward with all that being uploaded online,” said Father Cargo, who celebrated his first Mass in the parish on Easter Sunday, concelebrating with other parish priests. “Shortly after that, I began livestreaming Masses from the parish.”
Sharing his gift
Father Cargo admits he came by his interest in creating mosaic art quite by accident. He was helping an artist create a mosaic at his former parish, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Corsicana, when the artist told him he had a gift for doing such things.
“That got me to thinking that maybe I should explore it more, so I started with a few smaller pieces — just practicing and playing around. I discovered I really enjoyed it,” he said.
The first major piece he did was as he was leaving Immaculate Conception in March 2016 to become pastor at St. Joseph in Richardson. It was a mosaic representation of the front facade of the Corsicana church.
“It was kind of a grieving project,” he recalled. “Something to celebrate the parish I was leaving behind.”
It was also a learning project as the budding mosaic artist discovered ways to improve his work.
“It’s when I first learned that I shouldn’t use whole pieces,” he said, explaining, “The mind doesn’t like the evenness of a whole piece. You always have to have these cuts and variations for the mosaic to look good.”
After the priest got settled into his new parish, his artistic aspirations piqued again.
“It was that following winter that I decided I wanted to do something bigger. That’s when I started a mosaic of Jesus,” he said, adding that project took him from the winter of 2016 to Easter 2017.
In December, Father Cargo had the opportunity to begin a new project — one that would honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“I’ve always been attracted to the whole story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She’s been on my heart for a while,” he said. “So, I thought, what better time to start creating an image of Our Lady than on her feast day.”
The projects are time consuming, slowly coming together as each and every single piece is hand cut by Father Cargo, who then glues them into place.
“I find it’s a very simple thing. It’s repetitive. It’s working with my hands. I can really get lost in it,” said Father Cargo, who admits the work offers him an opportunity to step away from day-to-day rigors of his vocation. “The regular rhythm and routine of working on one piece at a time, that to me is very therapeutic, very helpful. There are very few activities where I can just get lost in it.”
Father Cargo considers himself still a novice at his art.
“I don’t have this all painted out beforehand, so I don’t know how it will all work out until it’s done,” he said. “But I recognize there is beauty here — and that brings me great joy.
“I think God is working through my hands in some fashion.”