Art as a Celebration of Life

Art as a Celebration of Life

April 30, 2015

Noreen O’Leary, SNJM, with her art

Noreen O’Leary, SNJM, with her art

Few things inspire more joy or stimulate the mind than a fine work of art. The way we feel when we appreciate a splendid water color, a surrealist painting or an abstract sculpture, and the mystery it often evokes in our soul, can heal, inspire and touch the human spirit.

No matter how you interpret an artist’s gift—love it or dislike it—the visual art in our lives makes for good company.

The residents of Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Lake Oswego, are in “good company,” surrounded by art in nearly every historic room and hallway of their century-old campus; so much art that it’s not uncommon to overhear someone refer to the community as an “art museum.”

Established in 1997 as a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Mary’s Woods is a nonprofit with a mission of responding to the Gospel’s vision of the full development for every individual at each life stage. The art adorning the walls and gardens of the community’s Provincial House and Historic Laundry Building, and the weekly art classes offered to residents, play a vital role in this mission. And not just for the enrichment of the Sisters who live at Mary’s Woods, but also for all the residents who share the campus with them and call the community home.

painting 1“For the Holy Names Sisters, art is an extension of life,” said Mary George-Whittle, Director of Pastoral Services at Mary’s Woods. “It’s a connection with the divine; a joyful class in the human curriculum. So many residents have discovered untapped artistic talents in their later life which has brought them abundant joy.”

For over 150 years in the Northwest, the Sisters have embraced their call to a variety of ministries, especially education, and art has always been an important component. The Sisters served as art educators at schools from elementary to college, instilling in their students a love and appreciation of art both created and enjoyed. A few gained wider recognition but most created for their families and the Holy Names community. Today many Sisters still enjoy artistic creation in a wide variety of mediums, including watercolor, ceramics, photography, textiles and collage.

And much of it is on display──at Mary’s Woods.

“From the beginnings of our congregation art and music have always been considered part of the education of the whole person,” said Marilyn Nunemaker, SNJM, curator of the Quetzal Bird gallery on the third floor of Provincial House. “Two of our founders were talented artists. Sister Mary of Mercy was an accomplished painter and Sister Francis Xavier did fine needlework and waxwork, like flower modeling. And other Sisters, of course, painted or explored different forms of expression. Their passion lives on today, through many of us as we age.”

Today, for many Mary’s Woods residents, and those who visit the campus, their art is a treasure. From the contemporary prints of Mary and Jesus created by Noreen O’Leary, SNJM, to the abstract paintings by Miriam Clare Murphy, SNJM, to the traditional oil and water color paintings by Mary Rosina Reis, SNJM, the portfolio of artistry spans the 20th century to today.

“I’ve been touched by their happy hearts,” said Priscilla Favro, a resident of Mary’s Woods. “Their blessing as both artists and curators of art has brought so much peace and joy to my life.”

To the casupainting 2al eye, all the art hanging at Mary’s Woods might go unnoticed, simply part of the décor. But in fact it is a visual symbol of the Sisters’ commitment to encouraging lifelong growth and personal development in each and every person. “The Sisters don’t create art because they are women religious; they create because they are artists,” said Sarah Cantor, Director of Archives for the Sisters. “Art is one way to bring beauty to the world and to share a way of looking at life. Both creating and viewing art can open the door to the Divine.”