WEST ORANGE - What began as a solo endeavor to foster her personal spiritual growth has expanded well beyond that point to numerous faithful endeavors for Lisa G. Westheimer, volunteer artist-in-residence at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
Westheimer began volunteering her artistic talents at her parish last year after receiving a master's degree in Studio Art from Montclair State University. Art, she says, is "a reflection of the inner soul and spirit."
Her artistic involvement with the parish began eight years ago. Every Lent, as "an artist and faithful Catholic," Westheimer begins work on a project that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Good Friday. During that time she has made a variety of religious items including Stations of the Cross icons for the parish chapel located in the former school building that is the site of daily Mass.
Reflecting on the Stations of the Cross project in 2003, Westheimer explained that she focused on the meaning of each Station. "By the time I had finished, I felt like I had walked the Stations."
The groundwork for her faithbased artistic endeavors actually took place several years ago when Rev. Msgr. Edward G. Bradley, director of the archdiocesan Ministry to Retired Priests, gave Westheimer a bagful of broken religious items. Many of the items, came from Father Francis T. Gavin, who passed away in 2002, and Father John F. Doyle, who died the following year.
"I took these items not knowing what I would do with them at the time," Westheimer recalled. "They sat around in my studio for a few years. This year I went through the bag and came across a broken plaque. On the back was a handwritten certificate that was the ordination record of Fr. Gavin dated May 31, 1947."
The plaque proved to be her inspiration, she confessed. Describing herself as "sorrowful that the commemoration of a lifetime of service dating back to the 1940s wound up broken in a bag for so long," she decided to restore it and the other items in the bag. Doing so, she explained, "parallels the concept of death, transformation, resurrection and charity that we as Catholics reflect upon during the Lenten season."
A guiding force throughout Westheimer's unique spiritual journey has been her pastor, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Petrillo. Msgr. Petrillo, she pointed out, "often tells us we should share our time, talent and treasure," noting that the pastor is enthusiastic about her work.
Msgr. Petrillo convinced Westheimer to expand her efforts, which eventually led to the creation of a parish restoration workshop. Members of the Our Lady of Lourdes workshop include George Bailey, Bud Fennell, Carol Ford, Clare Krakoviak, Marge Christiano and Jean Kubilus.
Earlier this year the workshop artisans met weekly during the Lent season. "We gathered supplies that we have at home and pooled them," Westheimer said. "During our meetings we got a sense of our individual talents and used them collectively to repair what Msgr. Bradley had given me. We also paint pictures and decorated them with objects, glitter and fabrics." Another ongoing project is restoration of religious items given to them by fellow parishioners that are returned to their owners.
It was during one of their gettogethers that members of the restoration workshop came up with the idea of passing along the results of their labor to men about to be ordained to the priesthood. The first presentations took place April 21 at the Archdiocesan Center in Newark, shortly before 13 new priests-a number that led the nation-were ordained on May 23 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart by Archbishop John J. Myers (see The Catholic Advocate, May 20).
The restoration group did so, Westheimer said, with the feeling that "it would be a wonderful way to celebrate the many years of selfless and committed service of the retired priests while, at the same time, expressing our utmost gratitude to the men who are about to embark on a journey of lifetime service."
Appreciative of the good work done by Westheimer and the restoration workshop members, Msgr. Petrillo praised the group's collective efforts and spirit. Referring specifically to the Stations of the Cross project, he described it as "a sign of the presence of God and a sign of the vitality of God. It would not have become a reality if Lisa had not suggested it."