Holy Hands

FEB.19-25, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 7
Holy Hands
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch

A painter, a musician and an art teacher. All three have been called by God to serve Him in religious life. And each of them has responded to His call in more ways than one. They have cultivated their artistic talents to enhance their ministries and share their faith.

For Father Herman Seibert, OFM Conv, his artistry was a long-time hobby that became the heart of his ministry. Sister M. Joselle Orlando, OSF, developed her skills after joining the Sisters of St. Francis. And Sister Theresa Laureta, OSF, watched as one talent led her down a path to something new and exciting. Their stories, though quite unique, each share a common thread –– all believe that God is working through their hands.

The Artful Friar

With a little bit of paint and a lot of imagination, Father Herman Seibert can create a striking work of art. His breathtaking cityscapes and religious icons are displayed from Virginia to Brazil. Although painting has long been a hobby of the 85-year-old friar, his artwork serves a much greater purpose. “I paint to teach,” said Father Seibert. “Art is teaching with pictures.”

If the reason behind his creations is to teach, then Father Seibert has enlightened hundreds through his paintings. Ordained to the priesthood on May 26, 1945, Father Seibert was one of the first friars to go to a newly-opened mission in Brazil. He has also served in Saint Lambert, Quebec and as a confessor at the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome. Wherever his ministry takes him, Father Seibert’s oil paints come in tow. Inspired by everything from the mundane to the spiritual, he paints. “In Brazil, we grew orchids,” recalled Father Seibert. The colorful flowers were his inspiration for several paintings. Most of his other artwork depicts religious icons, including the apostles, the Virgin Mary and Christ, expressed in his own unique style. They adorn churches around the world, evoking worship and inspiration.

“When one looks at an icon, they pray it,” said Father Seibert. Making something beautiful from nothing is Father Seibert’s gift. He began painting when he was a young man –– before he was called to the priesthood. “I found a postcard of Red Creek [in Rochester] and I started painting,” said Father Seibert, a native of Rochester. He went on to paint other things such as landscapes and cityscapes. One of his favorite paintings, entitled “Rooftops,” aptly depicts the tops of houses surrounding his childhood home.

After Father Seibert was ordained, his hobby and ministry began working together for the mission of Christ. In St. Louis, Brazil, he used his talent to design and build a church. Twenty years later, he found himself transferred to Saint Lambert, with the charge, “Start a parish for the English-speaking Catholics of the region.” Today, St. Francis of Assisi Church stands as the first of a string of some 10 English parishes in the Diocese of St-Jean de Quebec. “My father was an architect. I was interested in it so I decided to build churches,” Father Seibert said. Through his work, he has left a little piece of himself all over the world. “How many paintings have I done? Hundreds and hundreds,” remarked Father Seibert, laughing. Many of them he has passed on to relatives. He still finds time to paint at his residence at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Syracuse. But don’t ask him what has driven him to continue painting over the years. “I can’t explain why I paint, can’t find words to tell you why,” he said.

Marching to her own beat

A tiny room tucked above Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center in Skaneateles is Sister Theresa Laureta’s oyster. She spends long hours there creating beautiful greeting cards –– from scratch and from the heart. Most of the time she is soaked up to her elbows in a vat of sticky pulp, but there is little else she would rather be doing. “Art is my ministry,” said Sister Theresa, who serves as resident artist as well as musical director at Stella Maris. She has taught herself the tedious process of papermaking. “I don’t consider myself an expert,” she said. “It takes about an hour to make one card.” The cards, approximately 5 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches, are sold at Stella Maris’ gift shop and at Long Lake Gallery in Skaneateles. She creates cards for special occasions, such as holidays, and “everyday cards” which feature inspirational themes. Proceeds benefit the Sisters of St. Francis.

“I feel guilty that it’s this much fun,” she said of her cardmaking. “People seem to like them.” Sometimes, the cards are so popular that it is hard for her to keep up with the demand. “I guess I had better get to work again,” she said as she noticed her card supply at Stella Maris had diminished. Perhaps the cards are a hit because of their uniqueness. Many feature photographs of the scenic grounds at Stella Maris decorated with Sister Theresa’s special touch. “Sometimes I will superimpose an animal with a funny statement,” she said. “I get my inspiration from everywhere.”

Sister Theresa’s card making doesn’t supercede her first love –– music. She received her master’s degree in music with a concentration in organ from St. Joseph’s College in Indiana. After years playing the organ, she wanted to try something different. “Four to five years ago, I said all I can do is play the piano. I wanted another form of musical expression,” Sister Theresa said. So she learned the bass guitar and, later, the drums. “The hand drum is the most basic instrument,” Sister Theresa explained. Her interest became a hobby. She has a drum collection that she stows in her art room at Stella Maris, including African drums and Latin American drums. Often she incorporates her drum beating at Masses at Stella Maris and St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse, where she serves as music minister. The drums add something different to Mass, she said. During Communion there will be silence, except for the steady beat of Sister Theresa’s palm against the drum. “To the drummer and those who hear it, it is like I am playing the heartbeat of God,” she said.

Sister Theresa shares her talent with those who are on retreat. “I enjoy teaching people to play the drums,” she said. “But adults have a hard time learning. They expect to pick it up so fast.” And although some of her religious sisters have expressed an interest in learning the drums, Sister Theresa is one of few religious women who play the instrument. “It is different, but this is what God has called me to do,” she said. “Everything that I do should lift up people to pray.”

Those who can — teach

Sister M. Joselle Orlando loves her job. It is a rewarding one, which combines her interest in art with her enthusiasm for being with young people. For the past 30 years, she has used her artistic abilities to motivate students in the Syracuse Diocese and beyond. Currently, Sister Joselle is an art teacher at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton. Her classes range from beginner-level foundations in art to advanced placement classes. Sister Joselle does more than teach; she is a gifted teacher who inspires, motivates and challenges the creative spirit of her students. “I love getting up and doing this,” she said. “This is what I enjoy the best.” She believes that art is important to students. “Maybe some of my students are thinking of a career in art,” she said. “Art will help them develop their creativity.” She also realizes that not all of her students want to become artists or painters, but she tries to instill in them the importance of art appreciation. “This is the importance of art in anybody’s life –– to develop the creative things we have,” she added.

According to Sister Joselle, she started to develop her own artistic abilities after entering the Franciscan community. “I only had one art class as a senior in high school,” she said. “When I joined the sisters, they saw my art potential.” After joining the community, she went on to receive her degree in art education from Syracuse University. Some of Sister Joselle’s pictures hang alongside her students’ work inside her classroom at Seton. One of her watercolor paintings is on display at Francis House in Syracuse. While she enjoys painting, Sister Joselle would rather be teaching than devoting time to her own artwork. “My primary function is a teacher,” she said. “I love my students. They challenge me.” She also uses her gift outside the classroom, giving summer retreats for adults at places such as Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center.

“Whenever I am teaching it is a wonderful experience for me,” said Sister Joselle. “It gives me a chance to use art in a prayerful reflection.”

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