Posted March 11, 2009 in MH Edmonton AB:
An Exhibit With a Difference

by Miriam Stulberg.

Creativity glorifying the Creator, beauty expanding the human spirit, God-given talent given over to His service, and the fruit of lives consecrated to Him in love—such was the vision of Catherine Doherty. It was incarnated last November in an exhibition of paintings and icons here at Marian Centre.

Our house in Edmonton is primarily known as a soup kitchen. Four times a week the homeless and the needy are welcomed to a hearty stew. At other times, sandwich bags are distributed, and on Tuesdays, the clothing room is open. The poor are Christ to us, and in serving them, we receive much more than we give.

However, this is only one facet of Marian Centre’s apostolate. Our family life, the love we bear each other—the love we strive to practice—is the foundation from which all our service flows.

The volunteers who work with us belong to our extended family, and one of the highlights of each morning is spiritual reading, in which we share and discuss the spirituality of Madonna House.

Nourishment through art has long been part of our mission. At times we have offered classes in various crafts, and for a number of years, we had a gift shop.

Presently Marian Centre has two resident artists. Patrick Stewart, the director of MCE, has been painting for over thirty years, and Jude Fischer, who also manages the office and bookkeeping, is an iconographer.

One of our rooms was recently partitioned to provide Jude with a studio. In the craft room, where one or more of Patrick’s large paintings, mounted on easels, are usually in process, staff members can also be found in their free time, working at various handicrafts to the accompaniment of a CD and the crackling of the wood stove.

For several years we have been making the craft room available to friends outside of the house. Laura Bachynski started painting there about two years ago on Friday afternoons. Within six months her husband, Terry, joined her. Exceptional painters, they have been taking some coaching from Patrick.

On the last Saturday of November 2008, Marian Centre was transformed into an elegant art gallery. Displayed for sale were approximately one hundred paintings and icons by Jude, Patrick, and the Bachynskis.

Tables and chairs were removed from the big dining room and the walls hung with large paintings. Smaller works by Laura and Terry were displayed in an adjacent area. Signs in the hallway directed visitors upstairs to Jude’s studio and an adjacent room, both of which were filled with the powerful presence of thirty icons.

Around the corner, in a room dedicated to Our Lady of Combermere, were Patrick’s smaller landscapes and one large painting entitled "The Sixth Sorrowful Mystery—the Descent into Hades."

Dressed in their Sunday best, the Marian Centre staff were on hand to welcome into our home 350-400 guests. The diversity of visitors was indicative of our apostolic scope, ranging from Archbishop Richard Smith to our friends from the street.

An article in the Edmonton Journal the day before brought many people who were touching MCE for the first time.

One of many moving little encounters involved a newly released prisoner who embraced Patrick and asked to be prayed with, right then and there, amidst all the visitors. Patrick was happy to comply.

The eagerness of some of our young friends to contribute their time and talents was a particular joy, and they organized themselves without any initiative on our part.

Three of them—a flautist, a double-bass player, and a vocalist provided background music and were a resounding success. Genevieve, a former long-term guest at Madonna House, prepared trays and trays of exquisite hors-d’oeuvres.

These and other friends, including a former Edmonton art gallery owner, helped set up the exhibition and assisted us with the sea of visitors. Between the afternoon and evening showings, several of them joined us for vespers of the first Sunday of Advent, the first lighting of the Advent wreath, and an ordered-in Italian dinner.

In the midst of all this joy-energy, yet another friend arrived to spend the weekend with us!

Christian art is not necessarily religious in subject matter—it derives from the faith of the Christian artist.

In this exhibition, the only overtly spiritual work, besides the icons, was Patrick’s "Sixth Sorrowful Mystery—the Descent into Hades." The upside-down reflection of a crucifix held over a hammered brass holy water basin suggested Christ descending head first into what might be construed as baptismal waters, but also resembled the fiery jaws of hell!

A beautiful and powerful work, it represented the creativity of three Madonna House laymen: Patrick, Peter Gravelle, who made the brass basin for the MCE chapel, and Mark Schlingerman, who carved the crucifix, our processional cross, reflected in the water.

The painting caught the attention of our archbishop and of Fr. Stefano Penna, dean of theology at Newman Theological College in Edmonton.

Both men recalled Hans Urs von Balthasar’s words about how the meaning of Holy Saturday has been lost in our lives. Moved by the Spirit and encouraged by the staff, Patrick decided the next day to present the "Sixth Sorrowful Mystery" to Archbishop Smith as a gift.

Money from the sales of Patrick and Jude’s works was sent to the Madonna House Gift Shop, from which it will be sent to the poor of the Third World. Proceeds from the sales of Laura and Terry’s paintings were also donated to charity.


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