(Meliora is a Latin adjective meaning "better" and is the motto of
the University of Rochester  to mean "ever better" or "always better".)

In loving memory of Mary Kurowski Paprocki, Ron and Cathy Paprocki
commissioned this icon for the University of Rochester Newman community


Goals: Through a special Marian icon project, all who are inspired to participate will walk the spiritual journey together with our Blessed Mother to experience how to be like her who is in total union with the Holy Trinity by way of spiritual sharing from our family tradition and every day life experiences. 


Schedule:  All events take place at the U of R Interfaith Chapel on 320 Wilson Blvd. unless specified otherwise. 

June 2011: Since March of 2011, we (U of R Newman community, students, friends and I) spent several weekends walking the Marian spiritual journey together.  We shared our Marian faith and love for God.  We discussed what it takes to write an icon both technically and spiritually.  A couple of us have actually had a hands-on experience working on the first few steps of an icon writing process.

Like all of us with our God-given gift, I am grateful for the gift of writing icons.  Writing this icon is a special blessing for me because I have an opportunity to walk the spiritual journey with Our Lady of Meliora (a possible name for the icon of Our Lady) and her children at the University of Rochester Newman community.  That being said, I pray for the grace to follow the will of God who inspired Ron and Cathy Paprocki to initiate this grace and help making this spiritual walk with Our Lady possible for all who are involved.  We thank them for their faith and generosity.


In the pictures above and to the right, one can see a hard-at-work committee and Ben’s and James’ diligent effort in applying the clay bold onto the gesso surface.  The journey has begun. As the Newman community, friends and loved ones promised to pray, I now stay secluded writing the icon (24”x36”).  The wooden panel is heavy so it is not so easy to handle.  It took at least two hours to transfer the image onto the gesso board and get it ready for gold leafing.  I needed several uninterrupted hours to carry out this strenuous step (one of the 22) which required much patience, confidence and technical skill.  After several hours of applying two layers of clay with burnishing in between, I would spend several more hours to add two layers of gold leaf and complete the step by drawing special designs on the halos with etching and punching tools while the clay had not yet got hard.  The whole process would take about twelve hours more or less (4pm-4am).  So it passed mid-night.  I was quite tired.  I had to drink many cups of tea not to stay awake (though it helped) but to moisturize my breath so that when I breathed onto the clay, its surface would become sticky enough for the gold to adhere to it.  This was when a miracle happened:

A couple of months ago, asking for prayer to help me walk this challenging journey of faith both physically and spiritually, I mentioned about offering up all that I may endure for all, especially those whose prayers were sent our way on their behalf.  As the night went on, I got weaker and literally called out to the Lord and the Blessed Mother for help.  Unconsciously and suddenly, I began hearing the names of those who have been suffering.  This phenomenal revelation immediately awoke my soul when I realized what was happening.  The Lord reassured me that my offering up for others was at work.  I was so grateful.  This special grace helped carry me through the night as long as I stayed faithful with my promise not to put off the heavy part of the cross on the shoulder of the Savior and Lord who bears the burden and sins of the world.  Both my spirit and body were strengthened in a miraculous way.  Praise the Lord!  I did not have time to think of my weak self anymore, but to unite my cross with others’ in peace.  I continued on. 

Thank you O dear Beloved!  With only about two hours of sleep, I was rather exhausted the next day.  My body was throbbing, especially the right hand that burnished the clay with many hundreds of strokes to form a perfectly smooth surface for the gold application.  This whole process signifies how God formed man from clay and gave life to him through his own breath-the breath of life symbolizes the soul of the body - The Creation of Man.

The next few days, I began the first few steps of writing an icon. It is rewarding to see how beautifully this icon has begun to take shape. Thank you Lord!

September 28, 2011 What a spiritual journey, O Lord!!! 
It is quite interesting to notice that as we get older and experience life in a fuller scale, we see the sinful world more explicitly - my weaknesses and the weaknesses of others.  It is discouraging, but at the same time we learn how to let go and depend on You alone, Lord! I pray for all the prayer intentions sent my way. 

Today, I got a rather worldly comment from a young priest who reminded me that like anyone else, he is a weak and fragile human being who needs the mercy of God so that he does not slip into laxity by temptations and vanities of the world.  Please pray extra for our priests who are overworked; Some of them; therefore, instead of living a deep spiritual life to help care for souls, stay on the surface and get too involved in worldly matters that distract them from being like Christ, the Good Shepherd to the flock.   And a few days ago, I got a supportive and brotherly message also from a priest.  However, he is retired and more humble. I am sure he has gone through life with his heavy cross to realize how he must depend on God's love and mercy alone.  Of course only God can judge. The more He loves, the more He gives and the more He expects of us. Dear Blessed Mother of Meliora, please, intercede for the spiritual well being of your priests who are supposed to be spiritual role models and guides for the Church.

With all the generous prayers to God on my behalf, the icon will soon be completed.  I pray that the Lord will use it to help bring souls closer to him, and that will be the sole purpose for those who encounter this sacred image given them. 

There is a private unveiling for a small group of people, including the Bishop on October 14, 2011. Like in my dear young saints' stories, it takes Our Lady to bring me face to face with a bishop. I am open to whatever She would like me to tell him, of course, about the spiritual well being of the Church. Please continue to pray for us all, sinners - who see our shadow and who do not.  Thank you.

Dear Blessed Mother, pray for us! Amen. Thank you.

October 1, 2011 Happy feast of our dear St. Therese of Lisieux

I went to confession just recently and felt the urge to go again today.  Tears of contrition streamed from my eyes as I listened to Fr. Stephen Muller’s homily about St Therese’s humility and love for God.  “Like the deer that that yearns for running stream, so my soul is yearning for You my God.” (Psalm 42) I was utterly grateful.  Inspired by the Spirit, I wrote to Father: “Thank you for the homily today!  I needed to hear the important message you conveyed, not only with your inspired words but your humble spirit as well!  When we try so hard to love God and sometimes fall short because of our weaknesses, God does not penalize us but loves us even more for he knows the deep intention of our heart.  I have been going through some tough time and your homily helped shatter my pride so that God's loving grace could flow freely to heal and purify the wounded heart for something yet greater is to come.”  

October 4, 2011 
Happy feast of my dear St. Francis!!! I know you are praying for your little Claire dear beloved St. Francis!  I thank you.

 “Yes, the icon is very beautiful! But our Blessed Mother requires that icon-painters be persons of deep prayer, not just technicians which you seem to be on the way of becoming! … YOU ARE LETTING HER DOWN and frustrating your spiritual father seriously! … I pray you will have the grace to give yourself to the interior life more generously and faithfully for your own good and the efficacy of your work and your mission which is first of all to bring God's loving presence to others…”

Yes, I deserved very much to be reproved for I let the demands and temptations of the world get a hold of me. I recall one day while painting the Blessed Mother’s face, I was so preoccupied with the toils of the world that I could not concentrate.  I was very discouraged and prayed: “O dear Lord, please help me with this icon.  I know it is not my technical skill and effort that will make this icon a holy work that will touch others.  It is your gift of which I am not worthy.   Let it be for those who will encounter this holy image of You and Your most Blessed Mother that this created beauty shine forth to touch their inner soul where you abide in wait for the transformation of their heart to be like your Sacred Heart and Her Immaculate Heart. On behalf of my brothers and sisters, please I beg you.”  I left the studio that afternoon sadly, but was at peace with total trust in God’s loving mercy.  “I am sorry Lord for I let you down so oftenL   The next day, my soul and I got up and started over again with an attitude Fr. Justin Sheehan once described in his homily:

“Christians in this life are something like runners in the stadium, according to St Paul.   Runners have a goal… we have a goal, … it is God in the innermost depths of our heart.  And the victory song is in the Song of Songs: “I have found him who my soul loves; I held him, and I will not let him go.”  … Our goal is intimacy with the Lord who calls us into his service and that intimacy will be determined by the generosity of our response to grace.… (and it) calls for great sacrifices on our part….  So if we make up our minds to persevere in running towards the goal, we have to be always acknowledging that we can do nothing by ourselves but also that God is all: he can do all things and wants to take the planks out of our eyes, so that we can see clearly enough to run to the goal, the love that is in Christ Jesus…”


Abba John Eudes has been praying also to Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman and borrowed his words in hope to help me convert:

"But if a man is in earnest in wishing to get at the depths of his own heart, to expel the evil, to purify the good, and to gain power over himself, so as to do as well as to know the Truth, what is the difficulty? - a matter of time indeed, but not of uncertainty. . . . Well were it if men could be persuaded to be in earnest; but few are thus minded. The many go on with a double aim, trying to serve both God and mammon. . . . one man loves to be at ease, another to be busy, another to enjoy domestic comfort: but they agree in converting the truth of God, which they know to be Truth, into a mere instrument of secular aims; not discarding the Truth, but degrading it." (Parochial and Plain Sermons, "Knowledge of God's Will without Obedience".

Please O dear Blessed Mother, pray to God for us, the poor banished children of Eve, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.  Amen.

All highest glorious God,
cast your light into the darkness of my heart.
Give me right faith firm hope,
perfect charity, and profound humility,
with wisdom and perception, O Lord,
so that I may do what is truly your holy will.  Amen.

I pray with you my beloved brother Francis and my sister Claire of Assisi.

October 7, 2011 According to the weather forecast, it was going to rain all week.  My little studio room gets very dark when there is no sunshine.  I had to move the icon back home and convince my Godfather to let me use the front room (which was recently renovated and has plenty of light) to paint for the weekend.  The room faces the East so got plenty of sun in the morning, and because of the long and wide windows, I still got enough light in the late afternoon.  Yes, during those days, I worked very hard.  In addition to attending daily Mass, working a part-time job, taking care of New Helfta business and doing little acts of charity, I painted early in the morning and late at night.  Here is a picture of me taken by my Godfather from outside the room window.  The picture was taken on a Sunday.  I went non stop all week long.  That day I was exhausted.  I just got back from helping out at the Abbey bread store.  I had about three hours to paint before I went back to church for Benediction.  Here, in the picture, I was painting and then taking a break laying in the hammock. During that time, as Rev. Father John Eudes described it: “our Blessed Mother was watching over you from her ICON overlooking your unconscious self.  You look very peaceful…”   Well, I fell asleep… holding a brush on my right hand.  The Lord then woke me up just in time for Benediction that day.


As I continued to struggle with pride and other vices, the faces of the Baby Lord and the Blessed Mother slowly emerged gracefully and beautifully as if the rays of the bright sun had pierced through the darkened storm cloud from above.  I could only react by shedding tears of joy and at the same time I was flooded with profound humility.


Today, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I finished the icon. To a priest who praised God for this spiritual journey and the “stunning beauty” the icon shines forth I wrote: “This is a purification process (Br. Anthony Weber reminded me) within an intense and powerful spiritual journey for me.  I have been struggling along with my short-comings during the last eight months while going through the journey working with the U of R staff and students as well as painting the icon on my own.  I myself am surprised to see how the Lord has allowed a sinner to deliver such a holy gift - an image of the Beloved Son and His Blessed Mother.  I feel very humble! ...  The Lord is merciful and love.  He surely constantly tests our faith, love and fidelity to Him!”

Spencer, one of my carpenters who was hired to build the stand for the icon has scheduled to meet me at the Genesee Abbey to assemble the icon and the stand to get it ready for the private unveiling.  Abba John Eudes happened to give a talk in Merton Hall where we were to meet so he was the first to see the finished icon!  It surely was providence because he is the one who has been helping to keep my soul “alive” and teaching me how to fight this tough spiritual warfare. He was very pleased with the icon, and so were Abba John, the fathers and the brothers. I thank them for the spiritual nourishment, support and prayer which helped me during my journey with Our Lady of Meliora.

The icon stayed in the monastery area for a day. Here you see it with other two panels built by Spencer for the next two icons: of Our Lady of Intercessor and St John the Forerunner.


October 13, 2011 The journey is not yet over.  I recall how tough it was physically for me to finish the last details of the icon: the gold decoration, the words and the lines on the halos. I thought I could get them all done in about three hours, but it took at least seven!  It is difficult to judge from sight alone just how much work is necessary for such a project; experience alone provides an accurate judgment.  I continue to fight with the demands of the world in which I live.  I can plan my day but God is the One who controls it.  I must have priorities and act accordingly.  I must slow down and walk with my Lord.  I ran to the four P.M. Mass today out of breath.  My soul was screaming for help because I am getting very tired from going non-stop even though most of the things I do are works of charity. The Lord told us that the poor we will always have but we will not always have him. My soul and I decided to do what we usually do when life was not as hectic. We went to collect black walnuts after Mass. We spent the afternoon contemplating.  Thank You Lord.  Tomorrow is the private unveiling.  All for the love of You, Your honor and Your glory, O Lord!

October 15, 2011 The unveiling went well last night. We sure thank Dr. William and Leslie Hulbert for their beautiful home and hospitality, for all the hard work Mrs Hulbert, her dear daughter and those who helped make the evening a grace-filled one.

I was happy to meet the donors Cathy and Ron Paprocki. They are beautiful people! They like the icon very much, and I am sure their mother, Mary Kurowski Paprocki does also. I told them that the icon came out beautiful because they are, especially in the eyes of God. That usually is the case for me and my patrons. It was also a privilege for me to have a face to face conversation with Bishop Clark.  I was invited to some special events when he was present also but we never really met.  The last time I recall shaking his hand and making a promise to pray for the Bishop was a few weeks before my baptism in April 1998. Anyhow, Most Reverend Father seemed to like the icon very much and asked me to give a short speech. I am grateful for the opportunity to emphasize what our special gathering was about: thanking and praising God for another beautiful and sacred gift to the Church.

Many thanks to Spencer for making a special trip just to set up the stand. I thank God for my friend Ena, for her friendship and fidelity.  She has been supporting and walking the journey with me from the start.  I am grateful that she was able to accompany me to the unveiling event.  Besides Ena, I also would like to thank Karen Petote who was very active and helpful during our weekly meetings back in March and April of 2011.  Together with Ena and Karen is Ben Gigliotti to whom I own my gratitude.  Ben was assigned by Fr. Cool to represent U of R Newman Community.  Ben tried very hard to encourage students and staff as well as the Newman alumni to participate.  No matter how many showed up, Ben was always there at each meeting and prepared wonderful meals for us.  He is a good cook in addition to a doctor to be (I pray).  Traveling with the Blessed Mother is not always nice and easy.  The visionaries have shown us that.  The Lord sure tested our faith and our trust in Him.  Our success in this world does not count or contribute to our growth in holiness and love, but humility and faith do.  Many times, Ena, Karen and Ben helped remind me of this truth by their fidelity and perseverance in walking the journey.  They were like the three visionaries in Fatima.  Together with me, they showed up every time as we scheduled the meeting with Our Lady.  I told them that I promised Our Lady to follow through no matter what obstacles were in the way, and I thank them for always be there with me.


Last but not least I thank Fr. Brian Cool whom God entrusts to see this grace through to the end.   He has done a wonderful job to make sure the icon come to completion.  His mission as chaplin is a heavy responsibility indeed.  May the birth of the icon contribute to the success if this heavy task.  Please keep him in prayer so that he will receive many special graces to bring the U of R Newman community closer to God with the assist of Our Lady and her icon by way of deep spiritual transformation and conversion to the “better things”, the things of the spiritual world where God is above all.  Amen. 

Mater Maria ducit nos ad Meliora is the official name for the icon which means MOTHER MARY LEADS US TO BETTTER THINGS.  Staff and students of the community worked on it for many months.  They also came up with a beautiful and personal prayer:

O Gentle Mother Mary, full of tenderness,
to you I offer humble prayer:
Please guide me as I seek to make our world and
myself ever better through Jesus your Son. 
Inspire me that compassion may bloom in my heart

like dandelions in the springtime; and
may that compassion flow as freely as our fair Genesee.
Guide me on to the Kindly Light and
the mission of my life committed to no other. 
O Blessed Mother, full of love, present me
to your beloved Son, Christ my Lord. 

Pray for me, O Most Loving Mother of God,
that I may be worthy of the promises of Christ.  Amen.

Now that the miracle of her image happened, I pray that what I have been inspired to convey to our students will have a better effect on their spirit.  May God's will be done in all things we do for the love and salvation of all mankind!  Amen. 


I thank God for all the graces he bestowed on me during this Marian spiritual journey.  Desperately, I now need to get away to spend some quality time with Him in the desert.  Please pray for a grace-filled retreat at Holy Annunciation Convent in Sugarloaf, NY.  You may check out their way of life through the beautiful websites:   http://www.byzantinediscalcedcarmelites.com/ .  This community and I are traveling on parallel paths… We pray with our action as well for the unity of the Churches.  God gives his one Universal Church two unique and special gifts. What a pity for its division into Eastern and Western Churches. We have forgotten the Giver of all gifts and his plan for us. Instead, we have focused only on the gifts themselves. St. Augustine reminded us about this particular temptation in his Confessions. A husband gave his wife a diamond. Instead of loving him more and trying to please him for his gift to her, she only paid attention to the diamond and ignor the one who gave it to her.

“It is recorded in the Life of Pope John XXIII that when he was Apostolic Nuncio in Istanbul an old Armenian priest questioned him: "Excellency, what is the great sin against the Holy Spirit?" To which query the Archbishop replied, "Your Reverence tell me". "The division in the Church" was the old priest's answer." --- Taken from the sisters' webpage About Us.


Please join us and pray for the unity of the two Churches. While one represents the masculine character with gifts of administration, law and order, the other carries the feminine nature with gifts of contemplation and beauty. Dear Theotokos (Greek: God-Bearer), Mother of God, pray for us sinners. Amen.


October 22, 2011 That was a beautiful and holy week I spent at the convent.  Praise the Lord for everything!  Thank you for your prayer.  In God’s love, Minh

February 5, 2012 I brought the Icon back to the studio for oiling on December 27, 2011.  Thank You, Lord.  It was cold and with a little light snow, but everything went smoothly with the help of Nathan and a student.  I managed to unscrew the bolts and nails which fastened the Icon to the handsome stand as Spencer has coached me sometimes ago.


The mixture of linseed oils, after completely dries, will protect the surface from unwanted dust and smoke.  Oiling an icon surface, for me, is the most risky, challenging and strenuous process.  It was very much so for this Icon.  Thank You Lord! and thank you my dear Blessed Mother for your intercession.  Only you really know what I went though that very month, physically and spiritually to prepare me for this special grace to safeguard your sacred image and that of your Beloved Son, our Lord.  I thank you, especially during that same time, for your helping to restore Rev. Father’s health and spirit after several days of spending in the Park Ridge hospital emergency rooms!


After the oil was completely dried, I wrote the texts using the wood burning tool, on the back of the Icon:

Mater Maria ducit nos ad Meliora

Completed on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7, 2011

Blessed by Rev. Brian Cool on the River Level of the
Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester
October 23, 2011
Written by Minhhang K. Huynh of New Helfta

Commissioned by Ron and Cathy Paprocki for the Catholic
Newman Community in loving memory of May Kurowski Paprocki


Iconographers do not sign their names on the icons!  If something must be done to record important information requested by the donor(s), texts can be added on the back…  The beautiful letters came to life after several hours of hard and intensive work.  It is winter; therefore, I could not open the windows.  The burning smoke was not very pleasant to inhale.  O dear Lord, I offer it up for so many who are in need of your loving mercy…  With his help, I made it through!

The Icon was finally ready to be brought back to its new permanent home.  It took literally one full month.  With Spencer’s help, it was back to the chapel January 27, 2012, and was reinstalled into the handsome wooden frame…  It was nice to see Fr. Cool again who wrote in the Sunday Bulletin the week when it was unveiled:

“Honestly, my breath is taken away when I look at this image. Look at it from many angles. Ponder the subtle and the not so subtle. Pray with it and let it lead you to the sane devotion Mary had to Christ whom she holds so tenderly and close. …I believe this is the most significant project that I have been part of while here at Newman. It will inspire many for generations.”  (Also was quoted in the Cleansing Fire web site: cleansingfiredor.com/tag/marian-images/)

Thank you, Lord for all the graces you have been giving to all of us during this spiritual journey.
May all be yours, honor and glory, O Lord! Amen.

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