The love of fine arts is expressed in many ways, including our buildings and chapels and the beautiful sights and sounds that fill them. But perhaps it is most meaningfully expressed in our dedicated teaching of thousands of students in music, art and theater.
Musical instruction is a longstanding tradition. In our early days, every postulant, novice and professed sister learned liturgical music. That instruction was carried through to our choirs and grade and high school classes, and music education was part of every curriculum in our schools.
High schools were privileged to have an art teacher, but elementary school teachers taught their own art. Summer sessions offering instruction in teaching art and the development of art curriculum helped these teachers. In all classrooms, the arts were taught as if all students were going to be artists or musicians.
The sisters' work in theater began in the 1950s with a single college classroom outfitted with a makeshift stage at one end. Productions were developed and performed as theater in the round in the gymnasium. Since then, the sisters have designed a theater program especially for pre-school, middle school and junior high school students.
With the construction of the Fine Arts Center on the Viterbo campus, the sisters expanded their reach. The center is home to the Bright Star Season that brings great artists to the La Crosse stage. With the opening of the Weber Center for the Performing Arts the sisters' influence on fine arts in the La Crosse area continues.
Artistic expression continues as a primary ministry of several FSPA members. To learn more about contemporary projects by FSPA members visit www.ruahmedia.org and Sister Betty Bradley Original Watercolors and Religious Icons.
Q. How have the fine arts been a part of your life as an FSPA?
Sister Marlene Weisenbeck
A: My involvement in the fine arts started in the first grade, as I was educated by FSPA throughout my grammar, high school and college years. The FSPA had written music curriculum, which was taught in all the grades. At age six I was singing and reading music on a daily basis, learning about sharps and flats. By grade four I could sing the “Dies Irae” from the Latin Requiem Mass by heart because we were taught to sing all the parts of the Mass early in grade school.
In grade six I began to take piano lessons and a couple of years later organ and trumpet lessons, also taught by an FSPA who was probably one of the most influential people in the development of my vocation (though we never talked about that). By grade seven I was playing organ for daily Mass and marching in the high school band.
When I joined FSPA, my desire to study music was solid. I loved learning to play as many instruments as possible during my college years. I earned a baccalaureate degree in music education at Viterbo College. After four years of teaching music in elementary and high schools staffed by FSPA, I earned a master’s degree in piano performance and soon thereafter served as a faculty member in the Viterbo music department. I became the department chairperson during my 18-year tenure there.
My doctoral studies took me in other directions, but still prompted by beauty and an inner song, I earned a doctoral minor in art history. The arts have always been an impetus for the way I approach my ministry throughout life. Their spiritual essence helps me to hear and see reality through a lens of beauty that is part of God’s ongoing revelation. Even today I still love to sing and do so as a cantor and member of my community’s schola. I can say that the fine arts have been an integral part of my life for the whole of it.
Sister Karen Kappell
A: Being an artist isn’t something I could file away when I decided to be an FSPA. It was important that I felt the arts were valued in community and that I could continue as an artist. Through the years I have not been disappointed, and have encouraged many to get in touch with deeper meaning in their lives by finding the arts as means to express themselves. I do this while I am on staff at one of our three spiritualty centers, Marywood. I also have been encouraged and supported in producing and selling art which finds a place in a home, business, clinic or other places. Hopefully it brings a sense of beauty to the environment. I have been invited to contribute art for community gatherings, brochures and publications. Because art is a creative process and intuitive, it affects the way I work in other areas of life and I find this helpful in serving in my current ministry of leadership. These have been some ways I have used the gifts that I’ve been given. Through the years I have come to a closer realization of the close fit between serving as an artist and religious sister—and the value of the call to this life and community.
Sister Laura Nettles
A: The arts provide a variety of lenses through which we come to see the dignity inherent in all of creation and provides a glimpse of the divine artist.
The arts, music in particular, have always fed my soul. Music, whether listening or performing, is where I find beauty, peace and healing. More importantly, it is where I encounter the divine.
Like Moses and the Burning Bush, God speaks to me through music. I am blessed to be part of a religious community that actively supports my love of music and enthusiastically encourages my membership in various musical groups. Even better, my own spiritual journey has been enriched beyond measure by the artistic creativity of our sisters. Though we are diverse in many ways, the arts have become, for FSPA, a profound medium through which we share our humanity. And our souls are continually nourished.
“… the arts have been an inseparable part of the human journey; indeed, we depend on the arts to carry us toward the fullness of our humanity.”
National Standards for Art Education