Christmas paintings that open our eyes

By Christina Capecchi


I’ve been shopping for the perfect Christmas card, sifting through Nativity scenes framed in holly berries and bows.
None of the Marys feel right. The lips are taut. The face, unblemished. We see none of the bliss and bewilderment that must have surged after birthing the son of God. We see no emotion at all — serenity as vacancy, sainthood as sedation.

This year’s traditional Christmas stamp issued by U.S. Postal Service, Raphael’s “Madonna of the Candelabra,” shows a stoic Mary casting her eyes away from her infant. Painted in the early 16th century, it was a product of the Italian High Renaissance, but it’s hard to imagine the new mom letting a single moment pass without studying the Savior in her hands.

Eventually I found a card that compelled me, the store’s last boxed set of its kind. First I noticed the baby, who looks as he should: like a baby. Brown fuzzy hair, apples for cheeks and a light in his eyes. Mary holds him close, kissing his right cheek.

The painting was inspired 11 years ago when Morgan Weistling, now a 47-year-old father in California, heard Steve Amerson’s song “Mary, Did You

Artist Morgan Weistling created this painting titled Kissing the Face of God.

Know?” on the radio. It was the Dolly Parton version.

One phrase stood out to him: “when you kiss your little baby you’ve kissed the face of God.”

“Immediately I felt I was supposed to paint this,” Morgan told me. “I had been praying and asking God, ‘Give me an idea here.’”

Amerson’s phrasing appealed to him. “This little child she bore was God in the flesh, and yet, she cuddled and kissed him just as all mothers do.”

The painting poured out of Morgan in three days. He didn’t feel the need to sketch in charcoal on his canvas to begin, as he usually does; it was oil paint right away. He didn’t go back to make any alterations. The first draft was the final.

Morgan’s paintings are so realistic they look like pictures, and he uses people as models. His Mary was 16, a brunette named Katie who had a “sweet humbleness to her,” Morgan said. “It wouldn’t have worked with a blonde.”

The baby was of Jewish descent, born to a woman with a crack addiction and recently placed in a foster home.

Morgan knew he needed to master Mary’s kiss, rendering it tender, not “hokey.” Her left hand, pressing the swaddled baby to her heart, also was crucial. Morgan had long admired the way Mary’s marble hand grips Jesus’ side in Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Morgan’s published image, titled “Kissing The Face Of God,” sold out in two weeks. It remains his most popular painting — “my big gift from God,” he said — and the only original he’s kept, despite a standing offer of $100,000.

Every year Morgan receives requests to reproduce the image. One year National Geographic used it for a corporate Christmas card.

The painting speaks to the brokenhearted, Morgan told me. “A lot of women who have lost a child really attach to ‘Kissing The Face of God.’”

I’m grateful to the artists who help us see ourselves in the Blessed Mother, because she is for everyone. I once spoke to a victim of clergy abuse who had lost her Catholic faith but held on to Mary. I read about a woman whose conversion to Catholicism began in labor, when she called on Mary in urgent prayer: “Don’t abandon me now.”

This season we celebrate the mother who brings us to God with such capacity for love and grief and everything in between.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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Dolores Lehman–Kelly

Funeral services and a Mass of Christian Burial for Dolores M. Lehman–Kelly, 92, a resident of Bettendorf, formerly of Davenport, will be 10 a.m.  Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, 4097 18th St., Bettendorf.

Burial will be in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Davenport.  Visitation will be Thursday, December 22, at the Halligan–McCabe–DeVries Funeral Home, 614 Main Street, downtown Davenport, beginning at 4:00 p.m. with a prayer service that all are invited to attend.  The family will greet friends after the prayer service until 7:00 p.m.  There will be additional visitation Friday at the church from 9:30 a.m. until service.

Dolores died Monday, December 19, 2011 at the Good Samaritan Center, Davenport.  She was surrounded by her family at the time of her passing.

Dolores Marie Striegel was born October 27, 1919 in Harper, Iowa, one of fifteen children born to Sylvester and Ollie (Clarahan) Striegel.  She was united in marriage to Elbert Lehman on July 31, 1940 in Dubuque, Iowa.  He preceded her in death on May 23, 1973.  She later married Richard Kelly in June 1994.  He preceded her in death on February 18, 1995.

She had been a Teacher’s Aid in the Davenport School District at the former Johnson School.  She had also been employed by the former Peterson Harned von Maur.

Dolores had been a volunteer at the Davenport Museum and the Bettendorf Public Library.  She was a member of the Ladies of the Moose and the Museum Guild.  Traveling, playing Bridge and watching the Cubs were a few of the things Dolores loved to do, but she especially cherished the time she spent with her grandchildren.

Memorials can be made to Gilda’s Club of the Quad Cities.

Those left to honor her memory include children, Alice Janssen, Rock Island, Maggie (Mike) Hoiseth, Davenport, and  Elbert “Butch” Lehman, Davenport; grandchildren, Kimberly (Harold) Vaughan, Michael Janssen, Lisa Rusk, Christopher Lehman, Jessica (Jeremiah) Birdsall, and Annette (Josh) Martinez.

She was preceded in death by her parents, fourteen siblings, husbands, Elbert Lehman and Richard Kelly, and a son-in-law, Kenneth Janssen.  May they rest in peace.

Online remembrances and condolences may be expressed to the family by visiting Dolores’ obituary at

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Gym remodel wows crowds

The most talked-about recent facilities improvement has to be the refurbishing of Assumption’s large gym. The project began in the fall of 2010 with the generous donation of two new scoreboards and was followed by the replacement of the gym floor over the summer of 2011.

Thanks to several generous donors, April Knights 2009, 2010 and 2011, Spaghetti Supper 2010, Assumption’s Century and Booster Clubs, and a grant from the Bechtel Trust and Foundation, the large gym is the latest object of Assumption pride. If you have not yet seen the new and improved gymnasium, come check it out at one of this winter’s sporting events!

If you are looking for a unique Christmas or birthday gift, sections of the old gym floor have been made into keepsake plaques and are available for purchase. Please contact Joe Barrer at (563) 326-5313, ext. 231 or if you are interested in obtaining a piece of Assumption history.

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Volleyball mission is accomplished

By Allison Courville

Assumption’s MAC co-champion volleyball team includes, in back, Assistant Coach Courtney Winninger, Danielle Cabel, Libby Rohlf, Alex Donovan, Hailey Schneden, Katherine Huiskamp and Head Coach Mary Millman; second row, Mary Kate O’Donnell, Karlee Schmahl, Sydney Lunardi and Kristen Ketelaar; front, Kate Fennelly, Haley Resnick, Lexi Flynn, Allison Courville and Megan Leabo.

The volleyball banner in the Assumption gym is empty no more since the members of this year’s Lady Knights volleyball team can now call themselves Mississippi Athletic Conference (MAC) champions.

With a 7-2 MAC record, the Knights tied Clinton, North Scott and Pleasant Valley to be the winners of the MAC. The Knights ended the season in November with a 20-6 record that includes MAC as well as tournament and post-season play.

Post-season play was unfamiliar territory for the Knights, and they advanced farther than any Assumption volleyball team had in the past.

Their first district game at Central Dewitt on Oct. 24 resulted in a three-game sweep against the 10th-ranked DeWitt Sabers. The following Thursday the Knights played a second-round district home game against Keokuk where they once again completed a three-game sweep.

The district final match Nov. 2 against Maquoketa proved to be a heartbreaker for the Knights.  Losing 3-1, the team’s season ended, but not without making Assumption High School volleyball history.

The Knights also fared well in the naming of the All-MAC conference teams. Lexi Flynn was named All-MAC first team; Danielle Cabel and Katherine Huiskamp were chosen for the All-MAC second team, and Kate Fennelly, Libby Rolf and Hailey Schneden received honorable mentions.

This year’s team, along with head coach Mary Millman, changed the future of Assumption volleyball. Hopefully, next year a state appearance can be added to that gym banner!

(Allison Courville is a senior at Assumption High School.)

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Christmas contest winners put Christ first

Winning artwork of the Nativity as drawn by Chloe Ciecko, 9, a fourth-grader at Notre Dame Elementary and member of Ss. John & Paul Parish, both in Burlington

By Barb Arland-Fye

This year’s Catholic Messenger Christmas contest features two overall winners: fourth-grader Chloe Ciecko of Notre Dame Elementary School in Burlington, and seventh-grader Rachel Thomas of John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport.

Nine-year-old Chloe’s drawing appears on the front cover of this week’s Christmas edition along with 13-year-old Rachel’s essay. Both girls say they were surprised to win because they thought other individuals were worthy of the honors. The Catholic Messenger staff chose Chloe and Rachel’s entries as overall winners because of their originality and the ability to convey the wonder of Jesus’ birth.

Many of the 659 drawings and 65 essays submitted from throughout the Diocese of Davenport also conveyed a deep appreciation for Christ as the focus of the Christmas season.

“I just drew what Christmas means to me, and I think about Jesus,” said Chloe, 9, the daughter of Robert and Teresa Ciecko and sister of Claudius, 13. Chloe loves to draw, especially animals, and hopes someday to be an animal rescuer or a model.

Her mom, Teresa, was ecstatic about her daughter’s achievement. “She’s a hard worker, very diligent in how she works, especially on her drawings. I knew she worked very hard on this drawing … I am very happy and very proud of her that she won.”

Notre Dame Art teacher Nicole Kamrath said all of her students enjoyed participating in the contest and were anxious to learn who’d won. “It’s always fun to have contests where kids get to see the results of it,” in this case, on the front page of The Catholic Messenger, she said. “It’s really an honor for the school to have one of our students selected,” added Principal Bob Carr.

Essay winner Rachel initially thought she was in trouble when John F. Kennedy Principal Chad Steimle escorted her to his office. “When we were walking down the hallway he asked, ‘Do you remember the Christmas article for The Catholic Messenger?’ I said, ‘Yes, I remember the Christmas article for The Catholic Messenger.’ He said, ‘Congratulations, you won!’ I couldn’t believe it!

 “I definitely did not think I would win. This is such good news. I know there are a lot of good writers … and I thought, OK, there will be somebody out there who has a better article than mine. But at least I’ve got a chance.”

Her best writing involves rhyming, and that’s what she did with this piece for The Catholic Messenger contest. More importantly, she expressed a heartfelt belief about Christmas that resonated with the judges.

“I don’t think of only getting presents; I think of what actually happened on Christmas and why we have Christmas,” said Rachel, the daughter of Ellen and Rick Thomas and sister of Vincent, 10. Getting presents happens only because Wise Men gave presents to Jesus.”

A family tradition involves one child placing the angel on the tree and the other child placing baby Jesus in the manger. “Whoever puts the angel on the tree one year puts baby Jesus in the manger the next year,” Rachel said. This year, she places the angel on the tree.

Rachel’s mom, Ellen, said she’s proud of her daughter’s first-place honor in the essay contest. “She wrote it all on her own and she wrote it from her heart. Rachel is a very tender-hearted person and is always very empathetic and caring about other people and putting other people first. What she wrote was very true to her nature.”

Christmas contest winners

Christmas essay winners:

Overall winner was Rachel Thomas, a seventh-grader at John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport.

Honorable mentions were Nathan Vander Bleek, a sophomore at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton and Libby Rolf, a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport.

Christmas card contest winners:

Overall winner was Chloe Ciecko, a fourth-grader at Notre Dame Elementary School in Burlington.

First place winners were Sarah Moeller, a first-grader at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton; Jackson Fuegen, a third-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine; and Veronica Henderson, a sixth-grader at Riverdale Heights School in Bettendorf.

Honorable mentions were Isabella Maerz, a kindergartner at Keokuk Catholic Schools in Keokuk; Kate McAleer, a second-grader at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport; Nicholas Scholz, a third-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine; Evan Horak, a fourth-grader at St. James Catholic School in Washington; Rylee McCrery, a fifth-grader at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport; and Faith Bourgeacq, a fifth-grader at Regina Elementary in Iowa City.

What Christmas means to me

By Rachel Thomas

Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of different folks.

To some, it may mean, “Finally, someone to tell all of my jokes!”

To others, maybe presents under that ole green Christmas tree.

Or, maybe, to the little ones, hoping that a glance of Santa is what they’ll see!

But, this is what Christmas means to me:

“C” is for Christ, who was born on this day.

“H” is for Halleluiah, which is what the angels did say.

“R” is for Royalty, who traveled so far. They traveled the land, following the star.

“I” is for Innkeeper, whose stable was quiet and soft.

“S” is for Savior, who was laid in a trough.

“T” is for Teacher, what this babe came to be.

“M” is for Mary, the Holy Mother of both you and me.

“A” is for Angels, who sang of good news.

“S” is for Shepherds, who then woke from their snooze.

All of these things have a big part to play, in the manger scene on the first Christmas Day!

Christmas is about reflecting on the birth of the Lord

By Libby Rolf

Every year, the radiance from the Advent candles can be seen across the faces at the family dinner table, the Advent calendar marks the countdown until the merry celebration, and the Christmas swag suspends across the mantel and along the staircase. Yet, none of this compares to the true meaning of Christmas. To me, Christ­mas is a time of veneration, time to reflect upon the birth of our Lord.

As we prepare, we enter the season of Advent. Advent is a time of eagerness; we await the arrival of the King. When we reflect on the birth of Christ, we remember the struggles our Holy Mother went through. A young teen, Mary was carrying a child that would soon open up the Kingdom of God. This child would eventually bring the Holy Spirit upon his followers. How anxious she must have felt, but she looked upon God, the angels and her husband, Joseph, to guide her. Not only do we reflect on these events, but we also need to spread the account to those who question the truth behind God.

Every year, Christmas passes while many do not give reverence to the actual events that led up to the birth of Christ. As Christians, we must go out of our way to teach others the proper meaning of Christmas. Our job is to teach others to understand Christmas just as we do. So, as we prepare for the divine Christmas season, bear in mind those who have not encountered Christ, and let us find ways to grace them with truth.

Christmas is Jesus teaching us to give, love, celebrate

By Nathan Vander Bleek

As Christians, we all celebrate Christmas. We go to church, we listen to the stories, and we set up trees and nativity scenes.  We all know that we are celebrating Jesus’ birth, but so quickly we forget, and get wrapped up into the nonstop commercial scam that Christmas has turned into.

My vision of Christmas has drastically changed over the years.  It used to be about anticipating what would be under the tree when you woke up in the morning: Santa Claus visiting, the big meal at your grandparents’ house, and the parades all seemed to be part of my own personal trademark Christmas.

We all claim that we don’t get caught up in the commercialism of Christ­mas, but as we know it’s hard.  The nonstop signs, the nonstop commercials and the nonstop sales are all fuel for the “fake” Christmas. This is not what God intended for his son’s birth.

Of course God meant Jesus’ coming was to be acknowledged, and of course, celebrated, but we’re celebrating it in the wrong way. I decided a few years ago that I was going to rethink the way that I think of Christmas. I was going to view it as the coming of our Savior, as well as to spend time with family and enjoy each other’s company.

My hope for this holiday is that others realize the same: Jesus wasn’t born so we can receive gifts and overeat; that’s not what Jesus taught us to do.  He taught us to give, be generous, love our families, and celebrate his life.

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Upcoming events


Coralville – St. Thomas More Parish’s Stephen Ministry invites people  who are grieving or dealing with a family crisis to a Blue Christmas service on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m.  The prayer service will offer a time to reflect on Scripture readings and solemn songs of hope and comfort. The church is located at 3000 12th Ave.  For more information, please call Meliza at (319) 210-9233.

Oskaloosa – A healing Mass will be celebrated at St. Mary Church Friday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. There will be confessions before Mass and books in English and Spanish on prayer, healing, deliverance and exorcism. There will be a class the following morning on healing prayer.


Bettendorf – A centering prayer support group meets at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. After centering prayer, participants will discuss the book “Taste of Silence.” For more information call Judy at (563) 355-0611.

Davenport — Discover the heritage of the Catholic Church with Father Robert Barron, the creator and host of “CATHOLICISM,” a 10-part documentary that explores the global culture of the Catholic Church. The journey covers the lands of the Bible, Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa and more. People may view this documentary at St. Paul the Apostle Parish beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. in Denning Hall. To register or get more information, contact John Muenster at (563) 343-1355 or


Davenport – Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church and the Diocese of Davenport invite people to the Marriage Encounter Weekend Feb. 17-19, 2012. Married couples of all faiths are welcome to a weekend designed to revitalize, strengthen and enrich marriages. Cost is $95 per couple; financial assistance is available. To sign up and get more information, contact Tracy or Joe Ripslinger at (563) 388-0355 or


Oxford – The Oxford and Cosgrove Knights of Columbus will hold a pancake, sausage and egg breakfast Jan. 9 at St. Mary’s Hall from 7:30 a.m. to noon. A free-throw contest for boys and girls ages 10-14 will take place upstairs at the same time.

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Assumption fine-arts students celebrate award-winning fall

Assumption Band Director Melanie Wulfekuhle poses with All-State Band members AJ Skinner and Emma Simmons.

November was filled with great news for Assumption Fine Arts!

Several students attended and participated in judged events at the Iowa Thespian Festival at the University of Northern Iowa the weekend of Nov. 11. Assumption students placed in the top three in three of the 10 judged events.

Congratulations to the cast of “Canaan Days:” Liam Baldwin, Mundo Cadena, Sam Fer, Sam Jones, Jake Hannon, Patrick Kakert, Tanner Konrardy, Caleb Neff, Jacob Neff, Ben Pashon, Andrew Skalak and AJ Skinner on receiving second place and a superior rating. Congratulations to Jacob Neff and Sam Jones who received second place and an excellent rating in duet acting for their piece from Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” Congratulations also go to Bailey Hager for winning third place and receiving an excellent rating for her costume design for “The Tempest.” To top off the weekend, Sam Jones is now co-chair of the Iowa State Thespian Student Board.

Assumption’s Art Club also had great success this November at the Festival of Trees in Davenport. Alex Underwood received a blue ribbon for his entrance in the Quad City Area High

The Assumption Art Club's award-winning entry in the Festival of Trees.

School Art Display at the festival. The Art Club created a beautiful designer tree for Quad City Arts Festival of Trees with rolled-up newspapers for branches and ribbons crafted by hand. Their tree was awarded with not one, but two blue ribbons — one for first place in the handmade division and one for best festival theme. Only one tree gets the latter distinction.

Finally, two Assumption band students were chosen to participate in the Nov. 19 All-State Band Festival: Emma Simmons, who sat 13th chair of 21 in the clarinet section, and AJ Skinner, who was given the honor of sitting first chair in the euphonium section. In layman’s terms, that means AJ is the top high school euphonium player in Iowa.

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