St. Francis Xavier students’ art powerful, prayerful experience

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Jesus Falls the Second Time is the seventh Station of the Cross, from a series of paintings created by students at St. Francis Xavier School, Merrill. Sonja Doughty, principal of St. Francis Xavier, said she, the staff and Fr. Mike McLain are proud of the students’ artwork, and Bishop Peter Christensen has admired the paintings as well. (Submitted photo)
Jesus Falls the Second Time is the seventh Station of the Cross, from a series of paintings created by students at St. Francis Xavier School, Merrill. Sonja Doughty, principal of St. Francis Xavier, said she, the staff and Fr. Mike McLain are proud of the students’ artwork, and Bishop Peter Christensen has admired the paintings as well. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

Stripped, beaten, crucified and entombed, Jesus suffered death for the salvation of mankind. Students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Merrill, captured the pain and power of the Passion in a series of paintings that hangs in the school’s church.

“I think that the artwork of the students is what makes these stations so special and unique,” said art teacher Patti Gessler. “The depictions are both simple and very emotion-filled.”

The students’ Stations of the Cross were completed during Lent 2012. As Gessler explained, the paintings began as 3- by 4-foot sheets of white paper. Each class was responsible for two stations; Gessler divided the classes into drawers, painters and outliners, and, after discussing the meaning of each station, students decided how to illustrate them.

Sketching came first, followed by painting with a pallet of colors pre-mixed by Gessler to ensure consistency. Finally, outliners traced the images with black markers, and, 40 days later, the St. Francis Xavier Stations of the Cross were complete.

“We began each week of Lent that year with a prayer service that included hanging two of the large stations in our main hallways, and prayers centered around the two stations,” Gessler said. “By including all of the students in creating the artwork, and in praying the stations together as a school, it created a real connection and a deeper understanding and appreciation for Lent and the Easter season.”

The artwork was so well received, they decided to display the Stations of the Cross permanently in the school’s church, added Gessler. Each painting bears the names of the students who created it, and all the art is protected with a sheet of hardened plastic.

The series was installed in 2013 and, for the first time this year, worshippers who visit St. Francis can follow Jesus’ progress with a booklet bearing images of the students’ art.

Grouped together, the paintings depict Jesus’ anguish through the eyes of a child.
Seeing that, said Gessler, “is a powerful experience which I believe has, and continues, to bring us all closer to Christ.”

“They’re beautiful. It’s amazing what kids are able to do, and how you can see the light of Jesus through them,” added principal Sonja Doughty. “The art makes the space come alive.”

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