The following comes from a July 4 story in Catholic San Francisco.

Readers who pick up a copy of Catholic Churches, Big and Small may spot their own parish among the 40 archdiocesan churches that make cameo appearances in a new children’s picture book written and illustrated by San Francisco visual artist Stefan Salinas.

The first page of the colorfully illustrated, 48-page book asks children of any age, “Have you ever been inside a Catholic church?” Readers follow the fictional journey of a father, his two children and a nun as they explore the Catholic churches of a single city in a Pope Francis-inspired vintage Renault.

“I visited a lot of parishes to learn about this faith I was entering,” said Salinas, who was raised Unitarian and converted to Catholicism three years ago after completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. He is now a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Parish.

A fine artist with a degree from the University of Houston, Salinas said he created the book as much for himself as he did Catholic children.

The making of the book was a big part of his Catholic education, he said. He spent more than a year visiting parishes in San Francisco, talking to pastors and parishioners, taking photographs and learning about the history of each church.

In his story, Sister Barbara acts as tour guide to the family and readers. She describes what happens inside a church and why, as the family visits big and small, simple and ornate churches. The children learn about religious art and architecture that exists within their city – not identified as San Francisco but clear at least to adult readers – through church floor plans, artwork and furnishings.

“I consider this book for adults too,” he said. “I’ve had many adult Catholics tell me they learned something they didn’t know.

Salinas talked with Catholic San Francisco at St. Philip the Apostle Church on June 11, a little over a month after the release of his self-published book, with his friend and “technical advisor,” pastor Father Tony La Torre, at his side. The pair sat in the small parish chapel under a large stained-glass depiction of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio. Salinas designed and donated the window artwork to the parish last year.

Salinas and Father La Torre leafed through the book, pointing to familiar, unnamed faces that appear throughout, such as that of Auxiliary Bishop William Justice, St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father Kenneth Westray or Church of the Visitacion pastor Father Thuan Hoang. On a spread that shows the Cathedral of St. Mary on Geary Boulevard, Father La Torre is seen walking his dog Tennessee.

“It’s kind of like ‘Where’s Waldo’ for Catholics,” joked Father La Torre, who also identified his parish’s distinctive paschal candle on the page about church furnishings.

After moving to San Francisco 14 years ago, Salinas began attending Mass with Catholic friends on occasion and volunteered with Catholic organizations. He was drawn to the church, he said, but had no real intention of converting. The process of making the book helped change his mind.

“Before I became a Christian, the art and architecture of churches, particularly Catholic ones, drew me in,” he said. “That’s how the spirit started working.

“I unexpectedly became Catholic,” he laughed.

Catholic Churches, Big and Small is available at Books Inc.,, Barnes & Noble, the St. Mary’s Cathedral gift shop and Kaufer’s Religious Supplies. Visit

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