Students speak through art

Young Catholics’ artwork on display at Savior


by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Students go to school to learn and grow, but they cer- tainly have some of their own lessons to pass along as well.

“They’re teaching me something that I didn’t know before,” said Lesle Knop, executive director of the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas, archdiocesan director of stewardship and development, and a member of the Catholic Fine Arts Council.

She was moved by a display of artwork by students from all seven Catholic high schools within the archdiocese.

A reception on April 3 opened the first Archbishop’s Invitational Catholic High School Art Exhibit, which will remain on display at Savior Pastoral Center, 12601 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, Kan., during business hours through May 9.

With education being one of the areas the Catholic Fine Arts Council emphasizes in its mission, it made sense to work with the schools to find a way to encourage art from a Catholic perspective, said Knop.

And so the idea of this exhibit — which features some 50 pieces of student artwork — was created.

The exhibit includes works from students at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Hayden High School in Topeka, Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, St. James Academy in Lenexa, and Maur Hill- Mount Academy in Atchison.

The theme for the inaugural event was “The Friendship of Jesus,” and each piece of art and accompanying written reflection expressed that theme in some way.

Appreciating art

The wonder of it truly hit home for Ann Connor, archdiocesan associate superintendent of schools, when the collection started coming together as a whole.

The paintings, ceramic pieces, linoleum cut prints, photographs, pencil drawings, toothpick structures and more demonstrated “that each student is in a different place in their faith life,” said Connor.

“How they represent that relationship with Jesus — and understanding that — puts you on a path to help them to further develop that relationship with Jesus,” she continued.

Father Kent O’Connor, pastor of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and a member of the Catholic Fine Arts Council, incorporated the students’ artwork in his performance during the opening reception on April 3.

Inviting people to reflect on their relationship with and love for Jesus through- out the Easter season, Father O’Connor shared songs from his “Jesus” album, which includes a recording of a hymn called “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Ten monetary awards were presented to student artists at the reception. They included an archbishop’s award, a superintendent’s award and a popular choice award.

Three jurors — John Der- by, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; Andrew Julo, who serves as the service learning and community arts space coordinator at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan.; and Eva Reynolds, owner of Eva Reynolds Fine Arts Gallery in Leawood — also selected several award winners.

Engaged and wnriched

The printed program for the reception included a quote from Father Bruce Ansems, who works in the archdiocesan tribunal office.

He walked through the hallway as the display was being set up and was impressed by what he saw.

“As we walk this hall, let us be prepared to be engaged and enriched by each and every painting and sculpture,” said Father Ansems. “The value of the transformation in our souls is made possible through the efforts of the Holy Spirit working in and through these young people.

Each student has a unique story to tell, he noted, asking viewers to see the beauty in each piece.

Father Ansems also recorded audio reflections visitors may listen to as they view the exhibit. The reflections are available on devices at Savior Pastoral Center or for download through the Digital Media Center via the archdiocesan website at: www.archkck.org.

This is the first collaboration of its sort organizers are aware of in which all seven Catholic schools within the archdiocese have brought their student artwork together.

“We’d love to see it continue,” said Knop. “It would not have been possible with- out the dedication of the art teachers, and I really want to thank them. We would not have an exhibit if it wasn’t for the teachers and the students.”

She would love to see families take the time to view the exhibit. You never know — it could inspire a budding artist to envision his or her own work on display in a future exhibit, she said.

An exhibit such as this demonstrates that religious art doesn’t belong to centuries past or to the artists who lived in those times.

“We are religious today, and we have an opportunity today to use our gifts and talents to glorify God,” said Knop. “I think Pope Francis would certainly encourage us as Catholics to use every talent that we have in a way that helps others to experience the joy of the friendship of Jesus.”

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