Local Youth & young adult

Topeka first grader uses art to profess his faith

Leo Martinez, a first grade student at St. Matthew School in Topeka, used his recess time during the cold of February to draw the Stations of the Cross — from memory. PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. MATTHEW SCHOOL

by Joe Bollig

TOPEKA — Many Catholics pray the Stations of the Cross for Lent. Leo Martinez, a first grade student at St. Matthew School here, has gone a step further.

He’s drawing the Stations of the Cross. Someday, his drawings will hang in his bedroom with all his other drawings of Jesus, Mary, the saints — and Sonic the Hedgehog.

They’re pretty impressive drawings for a 7-year-old, especially considering they were drawn from memory.

“Leo is a very faith-filled child,” said his teacher, Samantha Pettit. “His faith is extremely important to him. He always shares stories and what he’s learned about his faith at home.”

In mid-February, when snow and arctic temperatures forced the school to hold recess inside, Leo chose to indulge his artistic passion.

“When I asked him what he was doing, he said he wanted to make all the Stations of the Cross so he could hang them in his room,” said Pettit. “I said that they were beautiful and asked where he learned about them. He said he learned them at home. He’s just mesmerized by them.”

Whenever Leo has an opportunity to draw, he usually chooses a religious theme: Christ on the cross, the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross and other biblical characters.

“He’s just amazing,” said Pettit. “He always adds creative details when we are free drawing. He really participates in our class discussions about our faith. He says the Holy Spirit guides him. He drew a picture earlier of the crucifix with a dove and rays of light coming down. He’s always thinking and looking for those opportunities to draw and share his pictures with others.”

Leo and his parents, Angel and Maria Martinez, are members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka. There, the Stations of the Cross are “just like pictures in a box,” said Leo. He said he learned about the Stations at church and from a little book his parents gave him.

The Stations of the Cross tell a story — a story that makes him feel kind of sad, he said. His favorite person depicted is Jesus, of course. And when he draws, his favorite tool is the pencil, because he can erase things he wants to change.

Theresa Lein, principal of St. Matthew School, has seen Leo’s Stations project and is very impressed.

“I was amazed at the amount of detail he has in each one,” said Lein. “When I visited with him, he said it makes him feel closer to Jesus.”

Lein told his parents about their son’s remarkable project. They, in turn, told Lein that he has similar pictures all over the walls of his bedroom. And also drawings of Sonic and Xeno Goku from “Dragonball,” the video game and cartoon.

Maybe he’ll be another Michelangelo, another artist famous for putting pictures on a wall, or maybe . . .

“Sometimes, he says ‘Mass’ at home,” said Angel Martinez. “He’ll put things on a table, a glass and some cookies he calls the holy bread. He takes red juice from the refrigerator and says it’s wine.”

It’s much too early to say exactly where Leo’s art and faith will take him. The plan for now is second grade next year and his first Communion.

His Stations of the Cross, meanwhile, will be laminated and have an honored place in the classroom until it’s time to take them home at the end of the year.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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