Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
Henri Nouwen was born in Nijkerk, central Holland. He was ordained a secular priest in 1957, and then pursued studies in psychology for several years because of his interest in the relationship between religion and pastoral psychology. He attended the Second Vatican Council, whose influence shaped the rest of his life. He was deeply in love with Christ and devoted to the Eucharist.

He was both a mystic and a prophet. Several of his books, including The Wounded Healer and The Return of the Prodigal Son have become spiritual classics. He was a complex man whose inner turmoil stood in stark contrast to the peace and hope he brought to so many thousands of others. At the end of his life he served as pastor at the L’Arche community of Daybreak, near Toronto. He died suddenly of a heart attack on September 21, 1996.

Henri had a deep appreciation of art, both icons and other forms. Near the end of his life he had a profound experience at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, when he saw Rembrant’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. His last book was a prolonged meditation on the painting. At the end he admitted with some regret that he most identified with the figure of the father, always waiting patiently for the return of the more glamorous figure of the wayward son. In this icon he is depicted as the welcoming father. The colors used in the icon are drawn from Rembrant’s painting.


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