Nun-artists washing dust from the soul

Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

And so it should be no surprise that Catholic sisters keep their souls so clean, participating in the arts in disproportionate number. Over the years I’ve been fascinated and inspired by the various artistic endeavors of women religious.

For Sister Ansgar Holmberg, an 80-year-old CSJ from St. Paul, painting is a form of prayer. “There’s no separation,” she told me in a delightful interview for St. Kate's alumnae magazine. As a young woman in the cloistered convent, through the lens of Catholicism, Sister Ansgar studied all the finer arts, from liturgy to calligraphy to architecture. She described her daily routine: rising at 5 a.m. to mediate in the attic, where she also paints, catching the morning light and working in silence.

There’s Sister Corita Kent, IHM, whose silkscreens were once compared to Andy Warhol’s. Sister Corita taught at a Hollywood Catholic school and, some say, changed the course of modern art. She also designed the 1985 version of the United States Postal Service’s special “Love” stamp the year before she died.

There’s Sister Jean Nelson, a CSJ whose love of pottery animated the endearing oral history she provided to SisterStory via Lily Jacobson.

There’s Sister Peronne Marie Thibert, the late Visitation sister whose poetry reflected her profound faith and sharp mind.

There’s Sister Maria Laura, a cloistered Augustinian and one-time seamstress who runs one of Italy’s most unlikely studios at the St. Rita monastery in the Umbrian hills, outfitting women in bridal gowns. “I know which one she will take,” Sister Maria Laura told a reporter while watching a young bride-to-be compare dresses. “You can tell from their faces.”

And who could forget Sister Cristina Scuccia, the Ursuline nun who won the talent competition The Voice of Italy after going viral with her audition, a sincere cover of Madonna’s hit song “Like a Virgin.”

There’s something about their deep faith that compels these women to create art – and, alternately, there’s something about their creativity that keeps drawing them to the Creator.



Further reading on faith & art 

  1. “But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.” –Madeleine L'Engle in her 1980 book Walking On Water
  2. “That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their ‘gift,’ are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.” –St. John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists
  3. “You were born to make art. You were also made to live art.” –Emily Freeman in her 2013 book A Million Little Ways: Uncover The Ar​​t You Were Made To Live

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.