Sepia Saturday #316: The Art of the Nun


This card was given to my aunt Mercedes Marie Strait and was from her father, William Charles Strait, Sr. The curly hair girl stands in front of an art easel (3-legs, like a tripod) with a palette and a paint brush. She certainly is a sloppy painter! All that red dripping all over the easel, the floor, and her own clothing.

Mercedes’ mom, Beatrice, was a devout Roman Catholic all of her life. She attended St. Michael’s School in Netcong, New Jersey, and graduated from 8th grade (her highest level) there.[1] Beatrice’s husband Bill worked for St. Paul’s Abbey (a Benedictine order) and, as a result, was friendly with many priests and brothers at the monastery. Beatrice was also very active with her local parish, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, in Newton, New Jersey. It was not unusual for Beatrice and Bill to have priests, brothers, or nuns over to their house on 43 Lincoln Place in Newton to visit all during the 1950s and into the early 1960s.

One nun, Sister Brendan, came to visit Beatrice. Sister Brendan was from the order of the Salesian Sisters of St. John (Don) Bosco. The nunnery was at the Sacred Heart Retreat House located at 20 Old Swartswood Road, Newton. Since Sister Brendan was in Newton, she was most likely a novitiate, in the 3rd or 4th year of her religious studies. According to the Salesian Sister website:

Novitiate is a two-year period of intense study of the Constitutions of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.  The greatest objective of the Novitiate is for the young woman in formation to know and understand the Constitutions which she will profess in two years. 

Novitiate is a time to foster a more intimate prayer life and a genuine Salesian spirit.  Novitiate is an opportunity to study Scripture as well as the history of the Church and of the Salesian Family with time and space to reflect deeply on God’s call to religious life.

The Novitiate takes place in Newton, NJ.  In this peaceful and nature-filled setting, the young women have time to reflect and pray at length.  Novices are also engaged in college classes for a Certificate in Youth Ministry.

Sister Brendan was quite taken with a print that Beatrice had hanging on her living room wall. It was a print of a country road lined with aspens and lush green, red, and orange plants. She found it fascinating and asked Beatrice if she could borrow it. She wanted to copy it herself and practice her painting.

tree print

The original print from Beatrice’s wall

Beatrice let Sister Brendan take the painting home with her. A few weeks later, Sister Brendan was back. With her, she had the painting that she had done from the print. Sister Brendan insisted that Beatrice keep the painting.

tree painting

Sister Brendan’s rendition

Sister Brendan’s painting was done on a 10″ x 14″ Grumbacher canvas foundation board. It was slightly smaller than the original and my grandmother Beatrice was enthralled with it. Sister Brendan had captured the essence of the original without copying it exactly. Beatrice hung the print back in its spot but made sure that Sister Brendan’s now-framed painting was hanging right next to it.

I am fortunate to have both the print and the painting hanging in my home now. And to know the story behind them!

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo: Tripod

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 2.44.55 PM

[1] Beatrice I. Repsher, diploma, St. Michael’s School, 21 June 1925; privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2013.  Original diploma issued by the state of New Jersey to Beatrice Repsher for the completion of eighth grade.



3 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday #316: The Art of the Nun

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