By Celine Klosterman
BURLINGTON – Gazing down at students, her arms outstretched, the Blessed Mother appears to welcome people to Nita Carlson’s religion classroom at Notre Dame Middle/Senior High School.
Senior Shelbi Howard finished painting the image on a classroom wall about three weeks ago. She was inspired by the idea that Mary is “with us during our religion classes and in our prayers today,” Howard said.
The artist spent about two months planning and painting the mural after receiving Carlson’s invitation to do so.
“I had been wanting a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary (as she is the patroness of our school) on my wall since I moved over to the high school five years ago,” the teacher said. “I had been inquiring to art teacher Nicole Kamrath about possibly having an art student paint me one.” Howard was the first student to volunteer.
Born into a Lutheran family and new to Notre Dame after spending years in public schools, Howard said she seemed like an unlikely candidate for the task. “I have struggled with the idea of organized religion throughout my teen years. This, I believe, is mostly influenced by my experiences in public school urging me away from faith.”
But “at Notre Dame, I have seen the good that Catholicism/Christianity brings to people and the changes that religion and faith create in Christians’ lives.” Carlson’s personal example and religion class especially impacted Howard, the student said.
“I thought the art project would be inspiring to take on because I had never worked with anything that has religious influence or symbolism before.”
Howard said she aimed to create a “glowing, angelic, maternal being.” Yet in her painting, a barefoot Mary stands on rocks to remind people the Blessed Mother was still among society’s poor and humble. “I painted her face and eyes looking down to welcome the people of faith and their prayers to her.”
“I am so pleased with the final product,” Carlson said. “Our holy mother is the first thing I see every morning when I walk in the door.”
Mary is more than the mother of Jesus, Howard noted. “She is a mother to all around her, a confidant, a protector, an understanding voice, and a symbol of maternal love. I hope that through the many years her image will be on the wall, Mary will be an inspiration to all of the faithful that Notre Dame houses.”