Academy’s project weaves together past and future

January 12, 2012 by

The curved outer wall of the new Chapel of St. Joseph is covered with aluminum "lace" inspired, in part, by the bobbin lace designs of Sister Ramona Medina of Concordia.

When the students at St. Teresa’s Academy were asked what the wanted in a new chapel at the Catholic high school in Kansas City, they had an idea that could be tough to translate into construction materials. The 563 girls said the new worship space — which would be part of the fourth building on the school’s campus — should have “a feminine feel.”

Sister Ramona Medina

The architectural firm of Gould Evans — including architect Tony Rohr, the father of a St. Teresa’s student — kept that in mind as research began. And ultimately the firm found its inspiration in bobbin lace patterns that date to the mid-1600s and a contemporary lacemaker who lives in Concordia, Kan.

The result is a stunningly unique exterior on the soon-to-be-dedicated Chapel of St. Joseph, which makes up part of St. Teresa’s new Windmoor Center.

The story of the exterior design, though, has to be woven into the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the school itself.

When the Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in about 1650 in LePuy, France, they were among the first Catholic communities to accept ordinary women and to live among the people they served. Those early sisters were not wealthy or educated, and they had to work to support themselves and their ministries — especially by making lace, a common trade in that region of France. By the time of the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century, the new community of sisters had spread throughout south central France. Then, caught in the political turmoil of the times, the congregation was forced to disband, but was ultimately refounded at Lyon, France. In 1836, the Bishop of St. Louis, Mo. — then still a rough frontier town — sent a request to France for Sisters of St. Joseph to come to teach deaf children. The bishop had been advised to “…get the Sisters of St. Joseph because they will do anything.” Three women responded to the request and came to a log cabin in Carondelet, just outside of St. Louis, to start their first mission in the United States.

The completed Chapel of St. Joseph on the campus of St. Teresa's Academy, photographed at night.

In the next several decades, the Carondelet sisters would reach out across the United States, eventually forming roughly 30 separate communities of Sisters of St. Joseph from the “family tree” that began with LePuy. That expansion included missions that began in Canandaigua and Buffalo, N.Y., in 1854 and then expanded to Rochester, N.Y., in 1868. In 1883, six sisters from the Rochester community came to Kansas and a year later founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Meanwhile, the original Carondelet community founded St. Teresa’s Academy in 1866. The all-girls school moved to its current 20-acre campus at 5600 Main St. in 1909. On the cornerstone of the school’s first building the sisters inscribed the words of St. Teresa of Avila, which would serve as the motto of the Academy: “Deo Adjuvante Non Timendum” (“With the help of God, we need not fear”).

Even from the first, St. Teresa’s student received a stellar education. But what they did not learn was the art of bobbin lacemaking.

At some point in the long history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in America, knowledge of that traditional craft began to fade away. Sisters still worked to support themselves and their missions, but not through the artistry of handmade French lace.

Concordia Sister Ramona Medina, an artist who works in any number of mediums, was concerned that by losing the ability to create bobbin lace, Sisters of St. Joseph were also losing part of their heritage. So in 2003 when the Concordia congregation announced that the theme of its Senate that year would be “Creating Lace,” Sister Ramona took that as a sign that she should find a way to learn how to do it.

She found a lacemaker in Manhattan, Kan., who had been taught by a woman who learned the artistry in LePuy. And Sister Ramona says she still turns to Ronna Robertson when she has a particularly challenging bobbin lace problem.

A few of the 200 lace bookmarks created by Sister Ramona Medina and a crew of volunteers.

Today Sister Ramona and Sister Janet Lander offer annual lacemaking retreats at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, and numerous other sisters and CSJ Associates create the delicate and intricate lace pieces that are offered for sale at the Nazareth Gift Shop in the congregation’s Motherhouse. Lacemaking has also become something of a staple at Neighbor to Neighbor, the women’s center in downtown Concordia where Sister Ramona is one of the founders and directors.

Becky Flores, executive assistant at St. Teresa’s, said that when the architects from Gould Evans went looking for examples of bobbin lace, they found the work of Sister Ramona Medina on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia website. Ultimately, they used one of Sister Ramona’s designs, plus another piece gracing the office of St. Teresa’s president, Nan Bone, and several other designs from LePuy, Flores said.

They then turned the project over to Zahner Metal Manufacturing of Kansas City, which crafted the cut-aluminum panels that sheath the curved outer wall of the new chapel. The panels are 19 feet tall and the largest are 8 feet wide. During the daytime, the interior of the chapel has a dappled light, caused by sunlight coming through large windows covered with the metal “lace.”

 

The tabernacle veil, designed and created especially for the Chapel of St. Joseph by Sister Ramona Medina.

But St. Teresa’s administrators weren’t done with Sister Ramona yet.

They have also commissioned her to create a bobbin lace veil to encircle the tabernacle in the new chapel. The piece, which she designed, features the cross suspended in delicate filigree lace.

And just to be sure that St. Teresa’s supporters understand the significance of the lace designs, the school also commissioned Sister Ramona to create 200 bobbin lace bookmarks that will be given to those attending a special Open House at the Academy Jan. 18.

That’s where Sister Ramona had to call in the troops; sisters, associates and other volunteers have been making the bookmarks for weeks. Contributing bookmarks were Sisters Vivian Boucher, Cecilia Green, Mary Jo Thummel, Janet Lander, Doris Marie Flax and Loretta Clare Flax and CSJ Associate Myrna Shelton, as well as Chris Overkamp, Carolyn Thurston, Sarah Schleicher and Jennifer Simmons.

“Can you believe it?” Sister Ramona asked with a laugh as she looked through a multi-colored pile of bookmarks earlier this week. “They are all so beautiful and it’s taken so many women helping.”

Sister Ramona has been invited to the Open House Jan. 18, which will recognize the contributions of everyone who has had a role in the school’s “Inspiring Women Capital Campaign.” The effort has raised more than $4 million, and in addition to the new chapel and the four classrooms that fill the rest of the Windmoor Center, will also pay for renovations to a second building on campus, enhanced technology throughout the school and an increase in the endowment fund.

The Chapel of St. Joseph will be dedicated in a special ceremony Feb. 2.

For more information about St. Teresa’s Academy and the Inspiring Women campaign, go to http://stteresasacademy.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

9 Responses to “Academy’s project weaves together past and future”

  1. Barbara J Redmond on February 8th, 2012 8:01 pm

    Oh, my goodness! Truly breathtaking!

  2. Ed Medina on January 25th, 2012 10:45 pm

    We always knew our Aunt Ramona was someone special with a special kind of love. Now it is wonderful to see it shared with the world! Congratulations!!!

    Eddie, Cathy, Terisa, Megan, and Billy

  3. Jeanette Wasinger, csj on January 18th, 2012 2:18 pm

    I am with you in spirit today, Ramona and others who are attending the OPEN HOUSE at St. Teresa’s Windmoore Center! The tabernacle veil is elegant, and the bookmarks are a generous addition to the whole project. I have been touched by this project and process! Thank you for the many ways you and others share their creative bobbin-lace making talent! And, I am delighted that there is an extension of LePuy, France, in Kansas City, Concordia, and around the world where Sisters of St. Joseph are present in ministry!

  4. S. Faye on January 15th, 2012 10:25 pm

    I am amazed by the beauty of the lace work on the chapel and the inspiration behind it as well as for S. Ramona’s desire some years ago to carry forward the lace making of our community. S. Faye

  5. Barbara McCormick on January 12th, 2012 10:51 am

    It is an honor to be a part of the St. Teresa’s Academy community. As I walk across the campus each day I am blessed with the view of this adorned chapel and am reminded of the dedication the Sisters had towards improving the lives of young women. Thank you for this opportunity.

  6. Betsy Hansbrough CSJA on January 12th, 2012 10:44 am

    The CSJ’s “care for the dear neighbor without distinction”. This lace with its delicacy and strength represents that love. Since the beginning, the Sisters have found a means to keep going, to care for all the dear neighbors. This design represents it beautifully.

  7. Sr. Beth Stover on January 12th, 2012 8:56 am

    I am in awe of the beauty and the magnitude of the lace art. Thank you, Ramona, for the inspiriation that has enhanced and facilitated this expression of our heritage…and connected our Congregations.
    Beth.

  8. Elizabeth (Betsy Gasperich) Miller on January 8th, 2012 5:44 pm

    HOW BEAUTIFUL………WOW…..IT’S MAGNIFICENT!

  9. Loretta A. Jasper csj on January 8th, 2012 8:41 am

    What a testament of the CSJ charism and our history to have you, Ramona, capture that in lace, to then be replicated in architectural enhancements. Most touching! And thanks for your your service to our neighbors via your gift of art.

Feel free to leave a comment...