Showcasing the Work of Sister Artists

Visit the CSJ Art Gallery and watch a slideshow sampling the work of our sister artists, past and present. Musical accompaniment by Sister Bonnie Ann Murray.


A Pattern of Art

by Madeleine Reilly, data coordinator.

As I gather the information about our sister artists, I am reminded of the sisters’ lacework. I have a predetermined plan, and yet, the pattern it takes a path of its own. A quote from Sister Anysia Keating, a St. Paul CSJ who studied art in Europe in the early 1900s, sums it up perfectly: “It would take a whole book to describe the paintings in this gallery.”

The importance of art in ministry stems back to the earliest days at Carondelet. According to the Year Book of 1876, a CSJ education included “drawing and painting in oils, water colors and pastel; plain and ornamental needle-work, tapestry, embroidery, hair and lace work and the making of artificial fruits and flowers.”

This was the regimen in place when S. Agnes Gonzaga Ryan was received into the community in 1873. When she became superior in 1905, she believed the sisters under her care required the best education possible in order to respond to the needs in the growing fields of education, medicine and social services. This included a foundation in art. She secured opportunities in art for the sisters at special schools, universities and institutes at home and abroad.

In today’s education climate, as the arts are dwindling in favor of strictly academic endeavors, studies are surfacing about the need of the arts in education to stimulate and develop cognitive and creative skills—something that Mother Agnes Gonzaga knew more than 100 years ago and that the CSJs continue today.

According to our database there are only 30 listings for bachelor, masters and courses in art between 1936 and 1981, yet many sisters were artists who received their degrees in other fields. They all left their marks with the students in their classrooms and with the beautiful pieces they created. Sisters such as:

S. Mary Ernestine Fuhs was the head of the art department at Fontbonne College from 1950-1972. She is best remembered for her beautiful dried flower arrangements. 

S. Mary Carmelyn Bommarito spent more than 40 years in art ministry (1944-1990), teaching for 30 years and working in the Art Studio at the motherhouse for 20. Some of her most memorable works are her sculpted pieces, especially her crucifix located in St. Joseph Hall. 

S. Colette Doering began her 67 years in art ministry in 1946. She taught for more than 40 years at the elementary through college levels and continued sharing her talents well into her retirement years. She was most prolific in water color paintings, many of which are hung throughout the motherhouse.

We see the evolution of the art ministry in the ways today’s sisters have expanded to reach and inspire the dear neighbor, such as:

S. Joan Spalding’s art ministry focused on teaching throughout her career, but expanded her reach from the classroom to the motherhouse ceramec studio in 1985 where she shared her talents in ceramics, calligraphy and wax works with adult learners. Her expressions enhanced special liturgical events for the CSJ community.  

S. Marian Cowan, whose experience ranges from teaching to administration, links her art with spiritual direction. Since 1990, integrating her work as a spiritual director and artist has helped her companion spiritual seekers. As a leader in the field of spiritual direction, her paintings reflect finding healing within.

S. Jean Iadevito has used her artistic talents to minister to the mentally ill since the 1990s. She currently works at CHARG Resource Center for the Chronically Mentally Ill in Denver, where she uses art as therapy to encourage clients’ self expression and personal growth.

S. Kathleen Stack embodies the spirit that you are “never too old” to follow your passions. At the age of 73, after having taught music for over 50 years, she tried her hand at painting. Today, she exhibits her art at Nazareth Living Center.


How appropriate the intricacy of art is to the CSJ mission—the power of the beauty around us to build relationships and to promote healing. Looking back at these works, we can now see how the intricate threads of past and present once tatted together, are forming a pattern yet to be completed in the future.

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