Her painting serves as reminder that friends in heaven are with us

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The singing paused but the painting endures.

Song is banned during the coronavirus pandemic for the sisters at the Franciscan Villa in Syracuse. Vocally quiet for now, high soprano and art teacher Sister Joselle Orlando, OSF, has painted a 22-by-26-inch watercolor, “St. Francis’ Mystical Love Song Embraces Our Pandemic.”

During her months in lockdown, she has been inspired to continue painting in preparation for her watercolor classes. She loves the “restful form” of circle-shaped artwork; a professor once told her that every artist has an innate color and an innate form.

“At that time I kept drawing these circles in my artwork and I didn’t know where the heck they were coming from,” she said. She tells her students that the center of their circle — a bird, a tree, an angel, a word, or something else — represents God for them. She believes that St. Francis is “embracing the world as God is as well.”

“My faith tells me that our heavenly friends have not abandoned us,” said the artist who this year celebrates her 60th year as a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. “The communion of saints is very alive in my heart and life. That is when I was inspired to create a painting with our holy father, St. Francis of Assisi, embracing our world.

“Francis is placed in an Assisi setting. To show that Francis is not of this world I chose to paint him as ‘see-through’ toward the bottom of the figure. Two angels are also part of this scene. The whole painting is created within a mandala shape, a sacred circle which predates Christianity.”

Depicted are “the painted elements: fire, air, earth, water. These themes are extended along the edge of the circle. On the circumference are excerpts from St. Francis’ ‘Canticle of the Creatures.’

“I shared this painting with my sisters in community and many were touched by its message of faith, trust, and protection. When the pandemic allows me to leave the Villa, I will make copies of this painting available.”

The student approves

Also touched by the message is Sue Cadmus, a professional artist from Minoa and a student of Sister Joselle’s for about two years.

“Sister Joselle’s paintings are an invitation to journey to the heart of God,” Cadmus said. “And as a student, she invites us to do that same journey. And she sets an atmosphere of love and excellence.”

Asked what she likes technically about Sister Joselle, she said, “As an artist, I love the way that she’s able to depict reality with another dimension. … There is the spiritual dimension to her work but it’s based in reality, and the mandala foundation of it creates such a journey.

“And as a student, the excellence, the exacting way that she imparts her techniques and her tools — it gives you the craft to express from, the foundation being the craft and then that sets you free to express. All of her paintings just invite that journey, I find. She sees God in all of creation and she brings it to her paintings and shares it.”

Sister Joselle has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education from Syracuse University. She also earned a master of arts degree in religious studies from St. Charles Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa. She has taught at schools including Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse, and the former Assumption High School in Syracuse.

She grew up in New Jersey. Both her father, who lived to be 102, and her mother, who lived to be 97, “had beautiful singing voices. I remember them — we all sang in my family when I was growing up, and my [older] brother as well. … And we had … Italian family gatherings, music; my uncles brought their guitars, my cousin played the drums, so it was always a part of my life.”

She said that when her father turned 100, he said, “I guess I’m getting old now.” Her mother had Alzheimer’s the last 10 years of her life, she said, and her father “cared for her faithfully. They taught me more about faithful love than anybody I can ever meet in my life.”

A source for meditation

When Sister Joselle entered religious life she did not expect to ever sing or do art again, but she said: “It’s all come back to me a hundredfold.” She taught high school art for 25 years, loving every minute, and she looks forward to getting back again with her approximately 30 adult art students.

“Sometimes I give art retreats,” she said, “and I use the mandala as a source for their meditation through art to prayer.”

She loves going for walks; her art studio is at Alverna Heights, right next to Green Lakes State Park. She uses her own artwork as samples for her classes but she sometimes sells them too. She is doing a whole series on St. Francis and will offer that for sale on a disk eventually. She has done oils as well but she prefers watercolors.

St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures” includes the lines “Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,/So useful, humble, precious, and pure.”

Very useful indeed is this sister of watercolors, eager to get back leading art class.

“I have a lot of energy,” she said.

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