A Book You Should Know: An Interview and Giveaway with Stefan Salinas of Catholic Churches Big and Small

by | Sep 10, 2014 | A Few of My Favorite Things, Catholic Mom Book Review, Giveaway | 101 comments

I’ve got a birthday coming up this month, so over the next couple of weeks, I’m pleased to be able to offer you, my dear readers, some hobbit-style birthday presents in honor of the occasion. First up: a book and a fine art print!

I am really excited today to introduce you all to a lovely little picture book that I’m pleased to have in our home. Catholic Churches Big and Small by Bay Area artist and Catholic convert Stafan Salinas is  unlike any other book in our family’s collection. The illustrations are detailed yet whimsical. The story is entertaining yet informative. Each page is a little work of art. 

I liked it so much, I asked Stefan if he’d answer a few questions for us today. And he agreed. So here comes my first ever blog interview with someone who does NOT live in my house.

First, thank you for creating your book, Catholic Churches Big and Small
. We’ve had it here for a couple of weeks now and my kids love looking at it. You’ve found a good balance of entertainment and information. 

From your website, it appears that you have “real” artist credentials. What made you want to create a children’s book?

I have been sending picture-book proposals to publishers, little by little, for almost twenty years. The first ones make me wince -they are so bland! Attending author/illustrator conferences and taking classes on children’s books has helped with my development, but what taught me the most has been reading lots of picture books and listening to authors’ interviews. To me, a children’s book is like a mini exhibition of paintings, or a small movie. They engage our imagination and sense of wonder about the world. The best books speak to children and adults alike, with a deep simplicity. My hope was that this book would appeal to children, along with their older siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, clergy… everyone. And so I am delighted to learn that children and adults like it!

How long did the book take to complete? Which part took longer, the writing or the illustrating?

It took almost two years to create. A few summers ago, on weekends and days off, I visited churches with my camera and sketchbook. Little by little, between a retail job and other projects, it took shape. Once I decided to self-publish, I kept my nose to the grindstone after work, almost daily for over three months. Each illustration took one to three evenings to produce, which doesn’t take into account figuring out the compositions and choosing the right images to depict. The writing made me nervous, for visual art is my strong suit. I rounded up a friend to edit it and a few priests to check it for ecumenical accuracy and advice. The paintings took the longest.

One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is how, well, catholic it is. I love that there are so many different kinds of saints, from so many different backgrounds. Men and women, rich and poor, married and single, famous and obscure. Do you have a personal favorite saint?

Yes, I love the variety! What did James Joyce famously say about us? “Here comes everybody.” I must admit, I admire qualities in many saints, but find it difficult to pray to any one in particular, besides Mary. The mystical ones intrigue me, like St. Hildegard of Bingen. Those individuals trying to balance the traditions of their day with fantastic messages they receive from the Holy Spirit, and are deemed insane because of them.

You show us in your book that there is a similar variety in physical Catholic churches. They are big and small, humble and grand, but they all get the job done. Do you have a favorite among the churches you’ve illustrated in the book? Did you visit them all, or did you draw them from photographs?

A favorite church? Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I even like churches I don’t like, if that makes any sense. Do you see why I had to write this book? Currently, St. Paul’s is my favorite. It was the one featured in the movie Sister Act, and is nestled in Noe Valley. It’s tall, pointed spires quite strikingly take command of the neighborhood, like antelope or gargoyle horns. And the body of the building is a thick, stone fortress. Once inside, you are surrounded by a regal setting, full of delicate details. Gold stenciling, painted portraits… But I also love, love, love the deep blues in the windows of St. Vincent de Paul. I could swim in that ocean for hours.

It was important for me to personally visit every church, with open eyes and an open heart. I believe I got to notice things many parishioners may not see anymore, and outsiders know not of. I live in San Francisco, and since there is a fairly good variety of architectural styles here, this city seemed perfect. Books tell kids about St. Peter’s in Rome and other grand sites in exotic locations, but what about the value of their own neighborhood church? They too are special, and are here to help serve the families’ spiritual needs.

Were you raised Catholic? Or did you convert? Or both? 

My parents raised me in the Modern Spiritualist tradition. Then, after college, I joined the Unitarian Universalists. Although I originally dreamt up this book idea five years ago, I didn’t convert to Catholicism until 2011. I truly believe this project was one of the devices God used to draw me closer to Him. From clerical mentors, to Catholic volunteer work, to “coincidences beyond coincidence”…

Is your book self-published, or did you have a traditional publisher? Why did you choose to publish it in the way you did? Would you recommend doing it that way to others?

I sent this book proposal to publishers far and wide. One major house accepted it, then changed their mind a few days later. It was then when I decided this baby needed to get out into the world by hook or by crook, so I looked into self-publishing. It is too early for me to recommend either road to anybody else, but either way, an author still has a lot of footwork to do. At least with self-publishing, I am gaining an understanding of the nuts and bolts of the business, instead of simply letting somebody else figure it out. Now that I’m building an audience, a “platform”, I am beginning to send the book out to publishers again. Who can beat their lower production costs and wider distribution?

You have generously offered to give away a copy of your book and a fine art print to one lucky winner among my readers! What can you tell us about this print?

I designed Communion in 2010. This giclée print has gold paint detailing. Some spiritual healers claim that their hands warm up when they perform a laying on of hands, so Christ’s hands are red. Also, the red in His hands and white of His garment are reflected in the red wine and white host. He speaks, and the Holy Spirit flies out of His mouth. This was influenced by a famous sculpture of a Buddhist priest, who’s chanting is depicted as a line of tiny monks marching out of his mouth. Christ’s body is like an hour glass. He is with us and within us, during all of our life, from generation to generation, and He is eternal, just as the hour glass can be turned over again and again. His eyes stare at us intently, like the figures do in Ethiopian icons. Other influences include the sculptures by Benny Bufano and the graphic works of Virginia Broderick.

Thanks for your time! 

Thank you for this opportunity, and for all your hard work with Catholic All Year!

You’ll find more information about Stefan’s book: Catholic Churches Big and Small, including more illustrations, and some Easter eggs to find inside the book (including Pope Francis’ 1984 Renault 4), at the book’s blog.

You can see more of Stefan’s art at his website.

You can buy his book at Amazon
. (Affiliate link alert.)

But one of you won’t have to, because ONE of you will WIN a copy, along with a beautiful, high-quality giclée print of Communion (pictured above). All you have to do to win is leave a comment telling Stefan the name of YOUR favorite church.

I will randomly select one winner, to be announced in a blog post NEXT Wednesday, September 17th. Please make sure your blogger comment profile is hooked up to an email address, so I can also email you if you’re the winner!

Linking up with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday!


  1. Rachael

    My favorite is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception (the Cathedral for my diocese- Peoria).

  2. Elisa | blissfulE

    My favourite is St Mary's Cathedral in Perth, Australia. It is a hybrid of old and new (finally completed 2011), and it's where my husband and I were received into the Church last April! 🙂

  3. Katie Paladino

    Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to travel to many different churches. So I'd have to say my own. I have attended the same church since I was born. Holy Cross Church in Maine. All seven of my siblings and me have made all our sacraments there and both of my kiddos(and hopefully future kids) were baptized there. It holds a special place in my heart.

  4. Grete

    My favorite is the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. It has beautiful mosaics.

  5. The Minears

    Right now, my favorite church is Himmerod Abbey. It was founded by St Bernard and we're only about 15 minutes away. I love the history, and the peacefulness, and the fact that I don't have to go very far from home to 'get me a little bit of Jesus'.

  6. Joanne

    Okay, I've been to a lot of churches but my favorite is St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh for sentimental reasons. It is the mother church of our diocese, we attend Mass there as often as we can, and it's where my husband was ordained a deacon. It's just a beautiful place.

  7. The Davis Family

    My favorite church is St. Dominic's on the campus of Providence College. It was there that I found my way back to the Church. It is simple and classic, with soaring ceilings and the most perfect combination of tranquility and joy!

  8. Tiffany

    This books looks absolutely beautiful! I think my children would love it (and so would I!). My favorite church is the oldest parish in my hometown of Buffalo, which is St. Louis. The gorgeous soaring style that just lifts your spirits toward God. Although it is not our home parish, we attend the vigil Mass there several times a year, and it's become a family tradition to attend Christmas Eve Mass there.

  9. Elizabeth

    There are five Catholic churches in my town. I've been to three of them: St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Boniface, and St. Lawrence. I love the cathedral, which is very grand, and has a beautiful baptismal font by the entrance, but St. Boniface will always be "home". I love it for it's traditional architecture and beautiful artwork, but also for it's parishioners who have reached out to my family in so many ways, and because that is where God led me into the Church.

  10. Rosemary

    My favorite church is my college "chapel," the Abbey Church of St Anselm College in NH,

  11. Alicia Copley

    A favorite church is very difficult to pick! My most memorable church visit is definitely to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona on a trip with just me and my sister. We looked at that church for hours from the park right next to it.

    Although, my home parish also ranks pretty high right now since, in the last year, I have gotten to see my baby boy baptized and my husband join the Church there.

  12. Trish

    St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. It is glorious!

  13. Meredith

    Hello! My favorite church is the one in which my husband and I were married: St. Columbkille in Brighton, MA.

  14. Staci

    The Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame's campus has my heart, after years of singing in the liturgical choir. Beautiful!

  15. Colleen

    Lovely book! My favorite church is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. That and the Sistine Chapel are reason enough to go to Rome!

  16. Debbie Affleck

    Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, PA is my favorite. And wow, what a great book!! God Bless!

  17. Brigid

    A new favorite of mine is St Paul the Apostle near Columbus Circle/Lincoln Center in New York. I had a beautiful and peaceful experience there over Labor Day weekend, and the windows and art are stunning.

  18. DomesticRocketSurgeon

    I have had the pleasure of seeing Notre Dame in Paris in person, but I still think my favorite is Maria Lanakila in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. That is where I was married and it will always be very special to us!

  19. Anonymous

    I hope us, Canadians, can weigh in! I love old churches in small towns the best… with lots of icons, statues and a high altar. Having said that, St. Clement's church in St. Clements, Ontario has always been a favourite of mine to visit.

  20. Heather

    Picking a favorite church is tough… I think I will have go with St. Patrick's Church in St. Charles, Illinois, where my husband was confirmed, where my children were baptized, and where I felt the twitch upon the thread of the invisible line that reeled me back to Faith.

  21. Amanda

    Hmmm a favorite church. I don't have a much-loved local or family church, and I haven't seen many except the big ones. If I could sit in any church forever, it would be Notre Dame. What beauty.

  22. Meg Anderson

    I havent visited too many outside of my home diocese, so Id have to say my favorite is our own Cathederal in St Paul, MN!

  23. Teresa

    It's not a church as one would expect, but The Grotto in Portland, OR is simply beautiful. http://www.thegrotto.org/ We've been there at Christmas time to view the grounds, but I hope to one day be able to celebrate Mass there. (We are not local to Portland, but have relatives there that we visit.)

    • Greta

      Teresa, I love the Grotto! We are local and it is an absolutely magnificent treasure.

  24. Marlo

    I haven't had the opportunity to visit any churches outside of my home church, so my favorite church would have to be The Church of the Holy Cross. 🙂

  25. Anamaria

    St Francis in Oklahoma City! It is beautiful without being overly ornate.

  26. Margaret Mary

    I love the cathedral in our diocese – St. Paul/Minneapolis. It's quite amazing!

  27. mmfollbaum

    Our parish is Mother of Divine Mercy in Detroit, Michigan. The parish consists of three beautiful, historic churches and it is difficult to pick a favorite! I guess if I had to, I would choose St. Joseph, built over 100 years ago and built in German Gothic style. The other two are Sweetest Heart of Mary and St. Josaphat, if you want to look up pictures. 🙂 Your book is beautiful!

  28. Laurel

    Chartres cathedral, hands down. I love the Gothic architecture!

  29. Amelia Bentrup

    My favorite church is definitely St. Martin de Tours in Louisville, KY (granted my chuch experience is limited). )

  30. Laura

    I haven't been Catholic very long and haven't visited many churches but my favorite that I have visited is St. Anthony's in Milwaukee. Beautiful book!

  31. Emily

    My favorite church is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. It's the church we were married in!

  32. Theresa

    I love to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey OH. But the original Shrine Church (smaller and down the street) is my favorite.

  33. Greta

    My favorite church is Saint Patrick's in Portland. It's small but beautiful.

  34. Anonymous

    My favorite church is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I love all the little alcoves and statues and decorative things. I could spend days in there and still not see it all!

  35. Linsey Hoard

    My favorite is one I saw when visiting Indianapolis, i think it is called Holy Rosary.

  36. Lizzie

    My favourite church is our home parish St. Basil's. It was built in the 1800's and is traditional and full of light. But the most beautiful church I have seen in Notre Dame in Quebec City.

  37. Bonnie

    My favorite is St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills, Illinois. My family has been a part of its congregation for generations. I was baptized, confirmed, and married there. It's small, sits up on a hill in the country with a beautiful grotto near it, and it's simple and beautiful.

  38. Kelsey

    I have not been to many beautiful churches as I have only been Catholic for a few months. But long before we became Catholic we lived in a small town and drove to an even smaller town called Uniontown, WA to see St. Boniface. I was blown away by the beauty and it left a lasting impression on us. Maybe it even planted a little seed?

  39. Dawn Gardiner

    St Augustine and St Mary in Stamford UK. My husband grew up with that as his parish and it is a lovely little stone church with beautiful carvings.

  40. Amy

    My favorite church is the one I grew up attending – Parish of the Holy Spirit in Kennewick, WA. It has many beautiful memories for me.

  41. Britta

    I have to pick just one? That's very difficult having been to so many uniquely beautiful Churches in the U.S. and in Italy. Well, if I have to pick one, then I pick St. John's Catholic Chapel in the center of campus at the U of I Urbana-Champaign. It's beautiful for 100+ reasons and it holds a plethora of memories, but it's where God and I met, personally, and so is extremely special to me.

  42. wrain74

    I like my home church, St. Joan of Arc, in Yorktown, Va.

  43. Jen

    My favorite is the Crypt church in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (National Shrine) in Washington, DC.

  44. Sarah

    I love Sacre Couer in Paris, it is so so beautiful. It doesn't get the same attention as Notre Dame but is so worth the visit!

  45. Alana Barranco

    I love St Peter's Cathedral in New York (we went to mass there right before we got engaged!!) but nothing beats my home parish St Bede the Venerable in Montgomery, AL. 🙂

  46. Katrina

    I love the stained glass in St Monica's Cathedral in Cairns, Australia.

  47. Kirby

    I'm partial to the church I grew up in – St. Thomas Aquinas in Dallas, TX. Our monsignor was inspired by the Roman basilicas and had the church designed in that style. The relic of St. Cecilia under the altar is said to be why our choirs are so amazing!

  48. Annie

    I think my favorite will always be St. Michael's in Fernandina Beach, FL. It is simple and beautiful, and we were married there!

  49. Layla

    St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows in downtown Nashville, TN will always be my favorite church. It's the first place I ever heard Mass (Palm Sunday, 2004), and it's where my husband and I were married. Plus, the first Bishop of Nashville is entombed in the back.

  50. Elizabeth

    It's so hard to choose, so I'm going to limit my choice to churches in the U.S. and pick St. Malachy's, "The Actors' Chapel," in New York City. My now-husband and I went there when we were dating, and he was confirmed there. The church itself is beautiful, and they have one of the best parish choirs I've heard. And I just love the fact that it exists, a spiritual home for performing artists, a respite from the bustle of Midtown Manhattan, nestled on a side street just off Broadway.

  51. Jenndiggy

    My favorite is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Was able to visit in 2006.

    jenndiggy at gmail dot com

  52. Moira

    The Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C.

  53. LeAnna

    My favourite church is Ely Cathedral in Ely, UK. Its foundation goes back to the 7th century. I love how it contains such a glorious mix of tombs, statues, and memorials from Anglo-Saxon times until the present day. I particularly love the Lady Chapel which is a testament to the dedication of the Cult of the Virgin in England despite the destruction of the Reformation. I used to see the Cathedral tower rising from the fens on my homeward journey from work and we told time by the chiming of its bells.

  54. Erica Saint

    I have been in several beautiful churches, but my favorite is my parish church, Holy Cross in Delaware. I have received all my sacraments there.

  55. kleinsch

    I've been Catholic for less than a year, but I've spent my entire life visiting beautiful Catholic churches and secretly longing to worship in them. Despite looking hideously modern from the outside and rightly earning its nickname "the Maytag" for its resemblance to a washing machine, St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco is one of a handful of very special churches to me. The stained glass windows and incredible organ kept me coming back time after time to worship, years before I publicly acknowledged I wanted to be Catholic. The Holy Spirit was definitely at work in that church!

  56. Christy

    My favorite church is St. Francis in Teutopolis, IL

  57. Claire Brown

    My favourite is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome. A little closer to home, would be the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Kingston, Ontario.

  58. Dara

    St Mary of the Angels in Singapore. It likes me feel more a part of the Church than any other church I have been in. I also like Chapel of Light on Seattle Univ campus but that is a chapel and not a church.

  59. Ali

    This book looks gorgeous! I stopped mid-read and ordered one on amazon, so if I win the print, please choose another winner for the book.

    • Ali

      Oops…and my favorite church is St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC.

  60. AmyJ

    I love the looks of this book! Favorite church…Sacre Coeur in Paris.

  61. Micaela Darr

    Wow! What a gorgeous book! {fingers crosse. I hope I win! I hope I win!}

    My favorite church? That's like asking me which of my children is my favorite. Totally unfair question. All I'll say is that a very special church to me was the parish of my teen years. It's built across from a granite quarry, and largely made of granite itself. It's a tiny mission chapel, that up until a few years ago, didn't even have a tabernacle. The setting: the rural foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is also pretty spectacular.

  62. Stefan Salinas

    Wow, – so many houses of worship for me to look up! This is exciting! Can I weigh in on one of my favorites from my home town, Houston? St. Basil Chapel, University of St. Thomas, designed by Philip Johnson. A little modern masterpiece. Sigh….

  63. Elizabeth

    One of my all-time favorites is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. The bright blue ceiling takes my breath away every time! But I do love my home parish, St. Gregory the Great on the north side of Chicago. Another gorgeous ceiling, and otherwise beautiful building, but also a place that feels so strongly of home.

  64. Jessica

    St. Louis is blessed with TWO basilicas. One (the "new" cathedral) is home to the largest collection of mosaics outside of Byzantium. But the other, the "old" cathedral or the Basilica of St. Louis King of France is my favorite. It's also the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi.

  65. Lauren @ Breaking the Mold

    Call me boring, but to date, the church whose architecture I admire most is St. Joseph in Lafayette, LA. My husband and I were married there. 🙂

  66. waiting

    I have two favorites: Saint Peter's (where I've been) and La Sacrada Familia in Spain (I very much want to experience the Mass there and spend hours wondering around!

  67. Abby S.

    I'd love to win a copy. I've never really been anywhere exotic, so I'm putting in a hometown vote for the St. Louis Cathedral.

  68. Jen Schultheis

    The most beautiful church I've seen is St Pat's in NYC. But my favorite church is the one where I grew up and got married, St Valentine in a suburb of Pittsburgh.

  69. Liz

    My favorite church is St. Sebastian in Byron Center, MI. I loved all the cathedrals in Spain, but nothing beats my home parish.

  70. Betsy

    My favorite church is St. Mary's in Annapolis, MD – so beautiful and special to me because that's where my husband and I got married.

  71. The Nem's!!

    My experience with churches is limited (not a world traveler here), but I will always love the old St.
    Michaels Parish in St. Michael, MN, because my mom grew up there (my Grandma would clean the sacristy every week) and it personifies old time Catholic Churches (steeple and stained glass windows). It's been "replaced" by a new, more modern building, but will always be special to me.

  72. Anonymous

    Ok. My favorite church is the one where I can find and feel the presence of our Lord. Visually, a church I have been to that I like is St Robert of Bellarmine in Omaha NE and St. John's on the campus of Creighton Univ. I have a fondness for the late 60's style of my childhood at St Patrick's Parish in Kansas City Kansas.

  73. Audrey

    Little Flower Church in St Louis, MO where my first memories of church take place.

  74. sil

    my favorite church is st. patrick's in new york city – the inside of it is such a contrast to outside!

  75. cholderby

    St. Paul's, Orwell, VT. It's a tiny church but, 15 years after becoming a Catholic, I have finally found my "just right" spiritual home.

  76. Anonymous

    I haven't been to many churches/cathedrals, but of the two that I've been to, I'd say Notre Dame de Paris.
    Ruth Anne

  77. Kate Weston

    I waver between Sacre Couer in Paris and the Duomo in Florence. But I love the pictures I've seen of some Northern European Gothic churches. I'd love to see them in person!

  78. Mandi

    Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is by far my favorite, even if it isn't completed yet!

  79. Julie

    My favorite is St Francis Xavier in La Grange, IL, but that's also my home church and has a lot of emotional ties:). I also love Holy Name in Chicago. I could get lost in the ceilings for days!

  80. Stephanie

    Notre Dame in Paris… it's where I felt moved to convert for the first time.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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