Painting St. Josemaria Escriva: An Interview with Bernardo Castañeda

In the St. Josemaria Institute’s search for a portrait of St. Josemaria, we came across a unique illustration of St. Josemaria by Bernardo Castañeda. In 2019, pleased by his skills and proposal, we commissioned Bernardo to paint a portrait of St. Josemaria exclusively for the St. Josemaria Institute. We were thrilled when the original painting arrived at our office and immediately appreciated the artistic details and warm personality of the portrait. We are grateful to Bernardo for his creative and skilled work, and for taking the time to do this interview and share insight into his creative process.

Bernardo Castañeda is an artist, architect and seminarian in his second year of pre-theology for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He has participated in several national and international design competitions and received honorable mention for an Aquatic Village in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. He has taken several courses, including oil painting, at the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York. He has international experience working with Ah Asociados in Pamplona, Spain and Vidal Architects in Mexico, collaborating on more than sixty projects. He is very interested in sustainability and in taking care of the environment.

High-quality art prints of the Portrait of St. Josemaria Escriva are available in our online shop.

Q: How did you become interested in art and architecture? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

Bernardo: I was interested in art since I was a kid, it has always been part of me. At the end of high school, I discovered my interest in architecture and decided to study that without leaving the art. The most interesting and enjoyable thing about the creative process is seeing the evolution of the work created, designed or painted. It excites me each time when I see a different or better piece and I wonder how it will look at the end once it’s finished. This is the fuel that keeps me going – I want to see the end result.

Q: When were you introduced to the life and writings of St. Josemaria? What inspired your devotion to him?

Bernardo: I studied in Opus Dei schools: basic, elementary and high school. My parents are supernumeraries, as well as my grandparents when they were alive. I also have two brothers who are numeraries. My grandparents contributed with the foundation of one of the Pan-American Universities. So, basically I grew up in an Opus Dei environment, but my parents introduced me more deeply into Saint Josemaria’s teachings and customs.

Q: What quote of St. Josemaria do you find yourself coming back to the most?

Bernardo: One I saw in one of his videos that says: “I live because I’m in love. Is that clear? If not, then this would not be life. I’m crazy; and they’ve called me crazy more than once. I don’t mind, what they say is true.” This reminds me of the first commandment to love God, but a real, deep love. To be madly deeply in love for Him.

Q: What does sanctity, or holiness, mean to you or look like for you?

Bernardo: For me, holiness is trying to constantly do God’s will in our lives and by consequence being the very best version of ourselves, while trying to love God as much as possible “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

Q: In today’s world, it can be seen as counter-cultural to live a sanctified life. What is it that motivates you to strive for sainthood and pursue holiness in everyday life?

Bernardo: It is counter-cultural indeed and this is one more reason to achieve sainthood. To be a modern example in order to show that it’s possible and to inspire others to do the same. What motivates me more is the lives of the saints, especially knowing their human part, because we tend to see them as unreachable or perfect. In reality, they were humans like us, made of flesh and bones and also struggled like us. This helps me to become more identified with them and to know that I’m weak and in need of God.

Q: How did you prepare to paint this portrait of St. Josemaria? What materials did you use? What did the process look like and time frame?

Bernardo: First, I admit that I was a little bit afraid and I didn’t know that I was going to be able to paint him as well as I wanted, but I decided to take the risk and trust. This was going to be my first painting of him and it was going to be my first time painting with oils in years. I had made several portraits of him with charcoal or pencils on paper but never a painting. So, once I accepted, I made several options of him with different color backgrounds in the computer to see how they will look. Then, I made a sketch with pencil over the canvas and later I started to paint him slowly and in layers, each one more detailed.

It took me between four and five layers of paint to complete it and one failed attempt in another canvas. I thought it would take me around one and a half months but at the end, it took me around four and a half months, way more time and effort than I expected. I really struggled a lot in the process but at the end, I was happy with the results. It’s definitely the most detailed painting I’ve ever made.

Q: Was there any particular insight you gained from illustrating St. Josemaria or anything else you would like to share about the process?

Bernardo: The main insight was that every time I had to paint, even if it was just a small detail or a small area, I was thinking of what Saint Josemaria used to say about details, about putting love in the little things of everyday life: “This doctrine of holy Scripture, is to be found in the very nucleus of the spirit of Opus Dei. It leads you to do your work perfectly, to love God and mankind by putting love in the little things of everyday life, and discovering that divine something which is hidden in small details.”

I was constantly thinking about this, trying to put attention to the smallest details and not avoiding them, because every detail counts, it makes the painting more real, more alive and by doing this I wanted to transmit to the others, this idea of putting love in the little things.

Q: Where can people see more of your work? Are there additional saints you hope to illustrate in the future?

Bernardo: I have a website ( and an Instagram account (@bernardocasta) where people can see some of the works that I’ve done in the past. I’ve done several drawings of Saint John Paul II, but I haven’t thought about doing additional portraits of saints for now, but I’m open to do more in the future. Perhaps of some of my favorite saints: St. Philip Neri, who was considered one of the happiest saints, Saint Francis, Padre Pio, or Saint Ignatius.

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The St. Josemaria Institute was founded in 2006 to promote the life, teachings, and devotion to St. Josemaria Escriva among all men and women who desire to find meaning and happiness in their daily lives by growing closer to God. The St. Josemaria Institute produces and distributes digital and print media as a means to spread Christian values around the world and to help people navigate and live well in the digital age.

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