May 6, 2016

College student gives credit to priest for helping her combine faith and art to show God’s beauty in the world

This is a detail of an Easter candle that Grace Stange decorated earlier this year for St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg. A member of St. Lawrence Parish, Stange is studying ecclesiastical art at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., and previously was an art student of Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. (Submitted photo)

This is a detail of an Easter candle that Grace Stange decorated earlier this year for St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg. A member of St. Lawrence Parish, Stange is studying ecclesiastical art at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., and previously was an art student of Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

GREENFIELD—From creating stained-glass windows and decorating Easter candles to designing and sewing his own vestments, Father Aaron Jenkins has used his artistic talents to show forth God’s beauty in the world.

It could also be said that his work to draw out the artistic talents in other people is a work of art in itself.

Grace Stange, 21, took art classes from Father Jenkins when she was a homeschooled high school student in southeastern Indiana. At the time, she was a member of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright, where Father Jenkins was serving as the pastor.

He also taught her liturgical art, including how to decorate Easter candles, during One Bread One Cup, a summer liturgical leadership conference for youths sponsored by Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

Now she is studying ecclesiastical art at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., which is affiliated with the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and hopes to make a career out of making beautiful things for the worship of God.

In 2011, Stange, at Father Jenkins’ invitation, decorated an Easter candle for St. Teresa.

“I got great feedback from the parish and from him,” she said. “So I took that to heart and decided that that was something that I wanted to do. I really found a place in the Church that I felt like was for me. That was my role. That was where I could take my talents before God and use it for his glory.”

She has since decorated Easter candles and candles for Advent wreaths for St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany and St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Seward, Neb.

Stange felt confirmed in the path that God had laid before her while she was on a discernment retreat in high school. She was praying in a chapel of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich.

At first, she was distracted by the fact that there was so little beauty in the chapel. She tried to return to a focus on prayer.

Eventually, Stange heard “this voice in my heart say, ‘Dedicate your life to ecclesiastical art.’ ”

“I said, ‘Yes. I will definitely do that,’ ” she recalled. “I had never heard of ecclesiastical art in my life. I had never heard those words together and didn’t know what it was. But I thought that it was pretty good.”

After returning home from the retreat, Stange soon learned about a new ecclesiastical art program at Concordia University, and has been studying and working on liturgical and sacred art there for the past three years.

She traces much of this work and her dedication to bringing art and faith together to Father Jenkins.

“He just believed in me and showed me that I have a place in the Church,” Stange said. “He did that and gave me the skills to accomplish it.”

Father Jenkins is glad to carry on the Church’s ancient tradition of being a patron of the arts in helping Stange hone her talents and giving her the chance to create works of liturgical art.

“I hope that she continues to incorporate art into her own spiritual life and deepen her relationship with Christ that way,” he said. “Hopefully, from that experience, she’ll be able to continue to help communities be more beautiful and our liturgies be more special through art.”

(Grace Stange can be contacted about her work in liturgical art at Grace.stange@cune.org.)

 

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