Upon entering St. Francis of Assisi Church in Vancouver, parishioners will find the compassionate eyes of the patron saint of animals and ecology welcoming them.

It took Burnaby artist Tilly Milton one year to paint this eight-foot-long, original oil painting. On July 17, the painting St. Francis of Assisi, Loving Caretaker, was installed. 

St. Francis of Assisi stands as the centrepiece of the painting, presented among sycamore trees. He is depicted as the caretaker of God’s children, both humans and animals. St. Francis embraces in his left hand the Tau cross, a 12th-century symbol of Christ. Perched on his left arm is a dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

Milton hopes she has portrayed St. Francis of Assisi as a “strong, compassionate, kind, and humble person.”

The left side of the painting represents St. Francis’s care for vulnerable people. The elderly man in the front, according to the artist, is the leper whom St. Francis cured and kissed.

St. Francis of Assisi was an Italian preacher, friar, and deacon during the 12th century. He founded the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor and led the movement of evangelical poverty. He expressed his devotion for God through love for all of God’s creations. St. Francis preached sermons to animals, cared for the poor and the sick, and recognized all creatures as brothers and sisters under God.

The right side of the painting illustrates St. Francis’s love of animals. A wolf, partially concealed behind one of the trees, figures in a well known tale.  In Italy, a ferocious wolf threatened a small town named Gubbio. St. Francis intervened at the villagers’ request. After finding and praying with the savage creature, St. Francis came back with the wolf by his side. After that, the wolf became the defender of the town.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Tilly Milton, Richard Penneway, and Father Eugenio Aloisio. (Anthony Mazzucco photo)

To the right of the wolf are three family dogs painted in dedication of donor Richard Penneway, who said the addition is a humble tribute to his late brothers, who were outdoor enthusiasts and often brought dogs with them on trips.

“I think if we had an emblem for our family, there would be a dog in it,” said Penneway.

Milton hopes people will view St. Francis not only as the patron saint of animals, but also as a charitable man. Milton especially emphasizes St. Francis’ importance as the patron saint of ecology.

“The world needs prayers from St. Francis for the earth,” said Milton, citing concerns about climate change.

Both Milton and Penneway believe the painting will enhance people’s faith for God and St. Francis. The people who see it “will certainly take comfort in knowing that he is indeed the Loving Caretaker,” wrote Penneway.

Milton has more than five decades of painting experience. Her most recent work is a painting of the Divine Mercy, which will be hung in Good Shepherd Church, Surrey.