December 8, 2017

Book’s images, art meant to inspire the human heart

St. Joan of Arc parishioners Jean Zander, left, and Brenda Henry pose for a photo outside the north side Indianapolis church known for its striking sacred art and architecture—the springboard that the friends used to create Every Heart an Altar, their book of prayers and meditations designed to lead parishioners and non-parishioners to a deeper relationship with God. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

St. Joan of Arc parishioners Jean Zander, left, and Brenda Henry pose for a photo outside the north side Indianapolis church known for its striking sacred art and architecture—the springboard that the friends used to create Every Heart an Altar, their book of prayers and meditations designed to lead parishioners and non-parishioners to a deeper relationship with God. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The story of Jean Zander’s and Brenda Henry’s special gift to their parish begins at a wedding that Zander attended in one of the many beautiful churches in the archdiocese.

On that wedding day at St. Joan of Arc Church in Indianapolis, someone not of the Catholic faith engaged in a conversation with Zander, making a point about how the church and its art work were so striking, drawing the person closer to God.

“It was refreshing for me to hear this different perspective from someone who is not Catholic, and I thought we don’t talk about this enough,” recalls Zander, a member of the parish, as she sits in the church. “I began to notice that visitors to the church would immediately look up when they came inside. There’s so much to see here.”

From that moment four years ago, Zander thought it would be great to create a 16-page booklet that would capture the beauty, sacred art and evangelization quality of this northside Indianapolis church. Yet after she enlisted the help of her longtime friend Brenda Henry, the two women decided to add another dimension to their effort—using the art work of the church as a springboard for prayers and meditations designed to lead parishioners and non-parishioners to a deeper relationship with God.

That combined emphasis on prayer and photographs of the church’s art has led to their recently published, 204-page, four-year-in-the-making book, Every Heart an Altar.

“We just felt that in reading about sacred architecture, that it’s supposed to lead us closer to God,” Zander says. “We felt the best way to do that was through prayer and meditation.”

Henry nods and adds, “From a faith standpoint, I’m in awe of this church. I’ve been here so many times, and even with its beauty, it’s easy to take for granted. It begins with an appreciation of the art and what it means to our faith, and then it leads to a deep gratitude for the history of our faith and the people who worshipped here.”

The title for Every Heart an Altar comes from one of Zander’s favorite prayer readings, a fifth-century sermon from St. Peter Chrysologus that begins, “Let your heart be an altar.”

“I’ve always just found it to be very powerful,” Zander says. “It went with the structure of the book because everything flows toward the altar, and we want every heart to be an altar.”

The book serves as a terrific lead‑in to St. Joan of Arc’s upcoming 100th anniversary in 2021, says its pastor, Father Guy Roberts. It also captures how the church’s “images and works of art are meant to inspire the human heart,” he notes.

“We are truly blessed at St. Joan of Arc Church to have inherited such a beautiful structure in which to meet God in the flesh,” Father Roberts writes in the foreword to the book. “Not only do we meet God in word and sacrament, but the very building itself tells the story of our Catholic faith.”

To enter the church “is as if an entire new universe opens,” Father Roberts notes. “The mundane world is left outside, and most first-time visitors immediately look upward toward heaven. This reaction is by design, to teach us that our constant habit should be to lift our hearts and minds to God.”

That same inspiration guided Zander and Henry while collaborating on Every Heart an Altar for four years.

“To see how it unfolded is amazing to reflect on,” Zander says. “I think the idea came from the Holy Spirit, was implemented by the Holy Spirit, and we were sustained in what we needed to do.”
 

(Every Heart an Altar is available for $25 by contacting the parish office at St. Joan of Arc at 317-283-5508.)

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