When Louise May saw a picture of Pope Francis opening the Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, she said she heard “a whisper of the Holy Spirit.”
May, who teaches art at St. Mary Help of Christians School in St. Augusta, decided to work with the sixth-grade students to create a replica of the Holy Door using a technique she once learned as a child called “copper tooling.”
“I just saw it and thought, ‘I think we can do that,’” she said. “The word ‘mercy’ can seem abstract, and art can help make visible the invisible realities of God.”
The project started in April and involved seven sixth-graders who were each assigned one or two images from the Holy Door that they researched online. Each image was made into a “panel,” depicting biblical scenes of sin and redemption through God’s mercy — like Jesus, the Good Shepherd; Peter’s denial; and Thomas’ doubt.
Using wooden embossing sticks, the students carefully indented the images into copper foil, drawing out the detail with Black India ink.
Mason Voigt, who worked on two panels, said his favorite part of the project was indenting the pictures into the copper.
“It was a big, fun thing for all of us to do together,” he said.
Fellow student Allison Hayward worked on a panel featuring the return of the prodigal son.
“I learned that the father showed his son mercy because his son had been gone for a long time,” she said. “The father missed his son and I thought that was touching because the father didn’t punish the son, he celebrated his return.”
Once the images were complete, Jerry Koltes, a 30-year member of St. Mary Help of Christians Church and long-time volunteer, built a wood frame to hold the panels in place as well as a table that sits under the doors and a sign that hangs above them.
The students antiqued the wooden buttons to cover the screws that held the frame together and painted the lettering for the sign. They also helped write descriptions explaining the Holy Door that are kept in a basket on the table for those who wish to visit the Holy Door, currently on display at the church.
Kelly Kirks, principal of the school, hopes to keep the Holy Door exhibit at the church throughout the summer and eventually find a permanent home for it inside the school.
“I just think this is a perfect representation of this whole community,” said Pam Nydeen, sixth-grade teacher at the school. “Starting in art class, incorporating religion, incorporating faith, our wonderful volunteers, it encompasses so much of the school and parish and it really represents us working together.”
Many of May’s projects provide the students an opportunity not only to learn new techniques but also about their faith, and she was especially excited for them to learn about God’s mercy during this jubilee year.
A project like this, May said, also gives students a chance to build confidence.
“With any project we do, it isn’t necessarily about the process or even the result, but as you go you feel like you are gaining confidence in your skills. I feel like that could be applied to other areas of their lives. Once you’ve done something, it gives you the confidence to try other things,” she said.
May’s greatest hope is that as people witness this piece of art, “the mystery of God’s merciful love would open their hearts and draw them in.”
“[I hope that they develop] a greater understanding and experience of God, a God who searches for us and loves us even when we fail, are weak and sin,” she said. “[And] to receive the invitation of mercy and hear the quiet calling, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.’”