Someday is Now, The Art of Corita Kent, The Tidings

Walking into the expansive space at the current exhibition, “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art feels as if you are entering a fresh new world of a present-day artist whose powerful images speak of big issues and spiritual intimacies.
How times have — and have not — changed.

The exhibition — on display until Nov. 1 — is the first full-scale retrospective that spans 30 years of work from Kent, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister and artist/instructor at the Immaculate Heart of Mary College in Los Angeles from 1947-1968; she eventually left the religious order and kept practicing art until her death in 1986.

After showing in five other cities — including at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg — the traveling exhibition comes back to Los Angeles and features hundreds of images culled from the Corita Art Archives at the IMH campus as well as pieces from private individuals and museum collections. The exhibition also includes rarely shown photographs Kent used for teaching and documentary purposes.

In the past, some of Kent’s iconic prints and groundbreaking designs have been included in other larger art exhibitions, but this show is a walk through the artist’s life via her artwork. It’s all Corita Kent.

In the gallery, Kent’s early religious images, like those of the Madonna and Child, give way to bold brilliant colors with imagery and lettering fonts taken from advertising, newspapers and other formats which eventually yield to reflective watercolors of simple, quiet beauty.

Kent is probably best-known as a pop artist (such as her “Love” stamp design for the U.S. Postal Service) and/or a social activist in the 60s (which got her on the cover of Newsweek as “The Modern Nun,” much to her disdain), but her overall work reveals an intricate weaving of personal thoughts and musings on the nature of spirituality, faith and humanity.

“She reflects on what is going on around her in the world — like war, hunger, conflicts, civil rights — and other times, she’s reflecting on her own journey or those close to her, such as her students, family and friends,” says Ian Berry, exhibit co-curator and Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in New York.

Berry is proud the exhibit features two of Kent’s full alphabets, the Circus Alphabet and Signal Code Alphabet, large-scaled multiple art pieces that explode with color and font, imagery and ideas. “Some letters are funny, some are serious,” he says. “These are really some of her master work.”

Indeed, Kent’s layered work invites viewers for a closer look. “You see the piece at a distance, big and bold, but then as you get close you discover more,” says co-curator Michael Duncan of the handwritten citations with quotes, passages and personal thoughts that are a hallmark of her work. “This is not two-second art, she engages viewers into her world.”

Duncan describes Kent’s love of the written word and how she drew from a wide variety of literature and poetry, inspired by creatives who, like her, saw the wonders, struggles and spirituality of life. One didn’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to appreciate her sensitivity and expressions of faith.

“Using the medium of printmaking was also revolutionary for the times,” points out Duncan; prints were usually considered second-class art, but in Kent’s hands, they became dignified and noteworthy. In addition, printmaking also appealed to Kent’s democratic sense that art is for the masses and images were meant to be spread around.

During the course of putting the exhibition together and following its travels, Duncan and Berry have met former students who have great memories of being under Kent’s tutelage, despite her grueling assignments.

Her “impossible assignment” required students to reproduce a simple object or create a collage 100-plus times.  “She was trying to get the students to break down their pre-conceived notions of what that object meant and would tell them by the 65th try, they were just starting to see the thing,” says Duncan. “Corita wanted to take them to the next level of seeing.”

The overriding goal of this exhibition, explained Duncan and Berry, was to secure a spot in art history for Kent and to introduce her art to new generations.

Indeed, the world may be ready for more Kent. After the conclusion of this exhibition, Harvard Art Museum, in partnership with the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, will be staging “Corita Kent and the Language of Pop” in September 2015; that show will also be on display next year in Berkeley and San Antonio.

“So often, art critics dismiss art that is openly spiritual as well as works that infuse humor and a sense of playfulness,” says Duncan. Far from being a pop Pollyanna, Kent had a deep sense of wonder and joy for the world, even when her work reflected troubling and tragic aspects of humanity. “She embraced it all.”

A variety of educational programs are slated at the Pasadena Museum of California Art for “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent” including a play reading about her life “Little Heart” at All Saints Church in Pasadena (July 18), curator’s walkthrough (July 19), children’s bookmaking workshop (July 25), family day art projects (Aug. 1) and more. Check the PMCA website for details.

Dead Sea Scrolls, The Tidings, March 2015

Overwhelming. Fascinating. Thrilling. The newly opened Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition conjures up many superlative adjectives — none of which can completely describe the historical, religious and spiritual importance you encounter when you step into the exhibit, now at the California Science Center in Downtown Los Angeles.

Mounted in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the exhibition presents the largest Dead Sea Scrolls collection ever assembled outside of Israel; these are pieces from the actual scrolls and manuscripts written and hidden in caves 2,000 years ago and first discovered in 1947 by local goat herders.

On display are sections from 10 scrolls which shed light on the formative years of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. More than 600 ancient artifacts are also part of the exhibition that runs until Labor Day.

Letting such treasures out to the public from their safekeeping vault in Israel was no small feat, explains David Siegel, the Consul General of Israel. Choosing the right venue for the exhibition was critical.

“We had to make sure we have the right climate control, security and lighting,” he says, adding that the scrolls and pieces currently on display will rotate out after three months to ensure their integrity. “People who come today will have the chance to see a new display three months down the line.”

The journey to the scrolls for visitors begins with a short film and multimedia presentation that sets the historical stage. Once the lights come up and doors are opened, the feeling of stepping into the past is overpowering.

“Here we walk back in time,” concurs David Bibas, the Science Center’s curator of technology programs. He points to dates which have been illuminated on the floor and corresponds to the artifacts on display, such as coins, jewelry, pottery shards bearing royal seals and ancient sling-stones and arrowheads, some dating back 3,000 years.

A display of a typical four-room home in the Holy Land features the types of tools people used daily.

Elsewhere, other artifacts help illuminate the ancient culture: four-legged altars and small deity figurines represent a time when multiple gods were worshipped; ossuaries (burial bone boxes); and numerous jugs, some “mass produced” for royals or the wealthy, as well as others created for commoners that would hold grains, water and other foodstuffs.

“Look here,” says Bibas as he moves to a terracotta bath tub complete with a hued seat. “It’s a 3,000-year-old Jacuzzi.”

Visitors enter the darkened inner room with a hushed reverence. Surrounding the scrolls are wall display cases which contain even more artifacts: a peek of a Greek-influenced mosaic tile, a glimpse of a Holy Land kitchen and a close-up view of ancient miniature leather phylacteries or tefillin (cases which contain biblical passages and are bound to the head and arm during Jewish morning prayers).

There is also extensive information about the significance of Knirbet Qumran, a community on the northern shores of the Dead Sea where the scrolls were uncovered.

Presented in a circular arrangement, the scrolls are the exhibit’s centerpiece.

Pieces and fragments are gently illuminated and visitors often get extremely close to the texts, their noses nearly touching the protective glass.

In addition to parts of the Old Testament, this exhibit features non-biblical books (like the Book of Giants), liturgical texts and other manuscripts, including a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract.

Bibas points out the selections from Psalms; that book made up the greatest number of scrolls found in the Dead Sea Scroll caves. This case holds perhaps the oldest of all Psalm scrolls discovered and one with as many as nine different psalms preserved.

Here visitors can see Psalm 71:1-11, which begins: “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me.”

The lettering appears fresh and strong; anyone who reads Hebrew can make out words and phrases, says Siegel. “It’s the same characters we know today.”

The reverential spirit continues when visitors encounter the three-ton stone from Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. Paper is available nearby and visitors of all ages write, fold and place prayers into crevices near the stone in quiet contemplation.

Written prayers will be gathered and sent to Israel to be buried with the others rountinely collected at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Nearby, a television monitor presents a live feed from the wall, furthering the connection to the Holy Land.

“Overall, this is an emotionally moving exhibition,” says Siegel, who adds that he hopes Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders encourage their congregations to visit.

“The Holy Land is beloved by three major religions that share much of the same Holy Scripture that is on display here. This exhibition has the power for uniting us, reminding us of what we have in common.”

Vessels and Channels, The Tidings, January 2015

“A sacrifice for the good of humanity is a story that happens in every culture,” explains Toparovsky, whose artwork celebrates the breadth of the human condition — the difficult, the painful, the sublime and the wondrous.

After he was satisfied with the rock pile configuration, Toparovsky exited the exhibition space and pointed out that his Prometheus has the legs of a raptor. “Think about it,” he challenged. “If you are having your liver eaten out every day, you would need to embrace your enemy in order to survive.”

That spiritual imagery and more fuels the current exhibition of complex mixed-media, sculpture, photography and digital imaging that spans three unique-shaped spaces in the cathedral. The theme draws upon ancient stories, mythology, historical references and contemporary narratives to convey the depths of the human experience and its transcendent connections.

Toparovsky, an internationally acclaimed artist, is no stranger to the cathedral — he designed and created the life-size bronze crucifix that adorns the altar, a beloved image for visitors and parishioners.

At first blush, it may seem ironic that Toparovsky, who considers himself an observant, if non-practicing Jew, was selected to design the crucifix (his first liturgical commission). But his artistic recognition and sensitivity to spiritual aspects made him the perfect artist to create Christ on the cross, an experience that he recalled was “overwhelming, magical, wonderful and exhausting.”

“With that commission, came a great responsibility,” he said. “Once that was installed, it never felt like it belonged to me anymore. I mean, how could it? It’s not the same. It’s invested with the energy of the world. It’s now an icon for so many.”

Indeed, Toparovsky is often approached and thanked for his work when he is at the cathedral. “They will come up and throw their arms around me, wanting pictures and kissing me and looking so delighted,” he said. “But it’s not me, it’s not who I am that they are responding to. I am just a conduit. A conduit for courage and the vulnerable.”

For this current exhibition, Toparovsky created unique spaces for cathedral-goers to meditate on, consider and ponder. In this first chapel (located at the end of the cathedral’s main entrance), you will find a high, hedge-like structure with leaping creatures popping out of it. Peer into a small window and see a garden of bronze plant life, a shimmering light and … a mysterious elevator door.

A secret garden? A metaphor for life’s barriers? The journey between earth and heaven? All of the above and more, said Toparovsky.

Turn the corner and discover the second art room that Toparovsky refers to as a lararium, the ancient Roman custom of creating a sacred place near the front door where offerings and prayers could be made. Here works of art on paper and sculpture fill up a vibrant blue lacy wall with other artwork — evoking modern and ancient sensibilities — positioned throughout for spiritual speculation.

The bronze torso may seem familiar — it’s St. Sebastian, an early church martyr who is often depicted leaning against a tree, dying from multiple arrows shot into his body. In this instance, St. Sebastian’s body is also melding into the tree to signify his connection to Christ on the cross.

“I wanted to portray him with as much beauty and dignity I could imagine,” says Toparvosky about the saint who did not die from the arrows, but who was ultimately beaten to death.

“I wanted this exhibition to celebrate the breadth of the human condition,” sums up Toparovsky. “To be able to accept that things in life are hard and still carry on. That there are sacrifices to make in order to get that the place where things are wonderful — and to have that personal connection to the sublime.”

Spectacular Rubens, The Tidings, October 2014

Installation view of “Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist” with The Victory of Truth over Heresy, about 1622-1625, Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), and The Triumph of Truth over Heresy, 1626-1633, woven by Jan Raes I, Jacob Geubels II, and Jacob Fobert after designs by Peter Paul Rubens, wool and silk (Tapestry © Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid).

Breathtaking, inspiring and artistically engaging, “Spectacular Rubens: the Triumph of the Eucharist,” a new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, features the work of master artist Peter Paul Rubens told in both elaborate oil sketches and monumental original tapestries woven in the early 1620s for a Franciscan convent in Spain.

It’s the largest number of works for the Eucharist series assembled in more than half a century and the first time these tapestries have traveled to the United States.

“This is Rubens on a grand scale that we don’t get to see often enough,” said Getty curator Anne Woollett, who worked with the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain, in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and in collaboration with the Patrimonio Nacional to mount this exhibition. “The complex iconography will grab you by the soul and we hope visitors will revel in the spirituality, joy and exuberance of Ruben’s unbridled creativity.”

Visitors who pass under the large photo realist images of the convent doors to enter the gallery will probably gasp with awe upon seeing the large tapestries, some as big as 16 feet high and 25 feet wide. The scope, content and skilled command of the tapestries harkens to a time when art was intricately linked to royalty and the bold presentation of deep, intimate, spiritual ideas.

This exhibit features four of the 20 tapestries that were originally commissioned to Rubens by the Spanish governor-general of the Netherlands, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia. The interconnected the tapestries were intended to be hung in the Monasterio de las Descalza Reals (Convent of the Barefoot Royals) which was located near the royal palace.

The Infanta had a profound sense of religious obligation, and along with her husband, Cardinal-Archduke Albert of Austria, the two established a solid Catholic state after decades of conflict.

When her husband died, the Infanta exchanged her court dress for a Poor Clare nun’s habit (shown in paintings at the exhibit) but continued to wage military and diplomatic campaigns to secure peace. Rubens was probably called upon to broker behind-the-scenes deals and arrangements because of his ambassadorial nature and status as court painter, explained Woollett. “Patron and painter both shared a passionate and almost militant view of Catholicism.”

The commissioning of these tapestries was viewed as a way to convince the masses of the power of the Catholic Church against the perceived heresies of the day (often depicted as Calvin and Luther).

For more than 400 years, these tapestries (one on top of another) decorated the two-storied convent church on Good Friday and the Octave of Corpus Christi as well as other special circumstances. (Art scholars don’t know the specific designation of where the tapestries were hung.) It’s suggested the tapestries may also have been hung outside of the building for other select occasions.

A Closer Look

Overall, the tapestries are illusions within illusions. Powerful figures and small angels unfurl the tapestries amidst a backdrop of architectural details like stonework and garlanded columns.

Good versus evil is the main subtext for theological virtues told with images from the Old Testament, the life of Jesus and other Christian symbols. “These are bigger than liturgical statements,” said Woollett. “They were meant to celebrate the nature of the love of God.”

The wool and silk tapestries, each weighing about 200 pounds, are displayed alongside six of Ruben’s original oil sketches which weavers used to create the final artwork. These modelli have been recently conserved with a grant from the Getty Foundation through its Panel Paintings Initiative.

The modellis, Wollett pointed out, are “mirror backward images” because weavers needed to work from right to left on their looms as they “read” the sketch design. Even though he knew weavers would have to “recreate” his art in a different media, Rubens “showed no concessions when it came to complex scenes,” said Wollett referring to large expanses of skin, intricate illusions and demanding compositions.

Weavers with specialized talent — faces, architecture, etc. — were called upon to construct specific elements, making the tapestries a many-handed creation. They, along with Rubens, did receive artistic credit for the final product.

“Dogs of All Faiths” at the Cathedral, The Tidings, July 2014

Franciscan Sister Christine Bowman was handing out two types of medals to dog owners at Dog Day Afternoon July 9 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“They are getting St. Francis of Assisi, of course, but they are also getting St. Anthony,” said the director of cathedral relations. “Because we know how easy it is for some dogs to get lost.”

Luckily, there were no lost dogs at this year’s “sniff and mingle” annual event that drew about 1,000 dogs and 1,300 owners, most who live in downtown Los Angeles. Guests on two and four legs were invited to hang out on the Cathedral Plaza on this warm summer evening for visiting, music and a light meal (Dodger dogs were on the menu as well as doggie treat samples.

Hosted by the Cathedral and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID), the event has become a beloved date for many downtown residents. “I have been to almost all of them and I look forward to this every year,” said Cathedral parishioner Jean Gonsoulin who brought her dog Cowboy. “I am Catholic and I lovethat the Cathedral does this. The courtyard comes alive!”

Many dogs — and some owners — were dressed up in costumes, including a “Flying Nun” pomeranian (a la Sally Field), a tuxedo-clad terrier, and a sunglasses-wearing chihuahua “driving” a car.

Elsewhere, a big Irish wolfhound towered over a dwarf chihuahua, bassett hounds rolled in the grassy shade, and bulldogs snorted and panted in and out of their owner’s legs.

“We have two-and-a-half acres of plaza and tonight we are sharing it with our canine companions that give us so much,” explained Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, Cathedral pastor, who was introducing his dog Joaquin to the crowds. Msgr. Kostelnik credits Hal Bastian of the DCBID (and his dog Scooter) as partners in creating the canine-centric event.

“That first year we probably had 50 dogs,” he said. “Now look at it. We like to say that ‘dogs of all faiths’ are welcomed here, but we also mean their owners, too. We are a cathedral of the people.”

Among the adoption booths and vendor and resource tables, the Cathedral was represented by Sister Bowman who, in addition to handing out saint medals and blessing dogs and people, also reached out to the community to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. “We have been signing folks up to be parishioners,” she said.

This was Sister Bowman’s second Dog Day Afternoon. “Seeing all the different shapes and sizes and kinds of dogs reminds us of how unique each of us is to God,” she said as poodles, dachshunds and mixed breeds frolicked nearby.

“Dogs also are a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us,” she added. “We have a lot to learn from them.”

(All photos by Brenda Rees)


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‘Saints and Martyrs’ at the Getty, The Tidings, Sept. 2013

Saint Jerome Extracting a Thorn from a Lion's Paw, cutting from Master of the Murano Gradual, northern Italy, about 1425-50

Saint Jerome Extracting a Thorn from a Lion’s Paw, cutting from Master of the Murano Gradual, northern Italy, about 1425-50

Calm St. Jerome extracting a thorn from the paw of a lion; the miraculous intervention that delayed St. Catherine of Alexandria’s execution by the torturous wheel; the gratefulness of everyday life as witnessed by St. Hedwig — these are just a few of the stories that make up the current exhibition “Miracles and Martyrs: Saints in the Middle Ages” at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Now on display through March 2, 2014, the exhibition features artwork that adorns pages of private prayer books, devotional tracts and even biographies.These images help us better understand how people in medieval times viewed the world around them — and how their connection with saints helped lay the foundation of their faith, says Elizabeth Morrison, senior curator of manuscripts at the Getty who along with Melanie Sympson, staged this exhibition.

When visiting the exhibition, Morrison says, try not to see the saint stories not so much as “historical recounts of actual events,” but rather as lessons on how to live and appreciate life. “They were role models,” she says about the holy men and women who presented images of goodness, piety, sacrifice and even a willingness to suffer torture and death. “These personal stories were meant to resonate with your own life.”

Through the years, devotions and attention to certain saints have waxed and waned. Interest in some saints can be cultural and societal, says Morrison, who points to the example of St. Appolonia who was martyred by having her teeth extracted, and was a very popular devotion for people with teeth problems.

The mediaeval faithful “would ask her intercession because, well, she of all people would understand the pain,” Morrison explains. But with the rise of dentistry, the devotion to St. Appolonia declined.

Still, there are those saints whose stories span centuries. In the exhibit, the rich image of composed St. Jerome tending to the wild lion reinforces the ideal that saints had special connections with not only the spiritual but also the temporal world.

That peaceful composure is also found with St. Catherine of Alexandria who confounded the pagan philosophers of the day with her teachings of Christianity but was still sentenced to death via the “wheel” only to have that miraculously destroyed. But that didn’t save Catherine’s life. She was eventually beheaded, a quicker death than the painful torture of the tortuous wheel instrument.

Saint Catherine, Gualenghi d'Este Hours, Ferrara, Taddeo Crivelli, about 1469

Saint Catherine, Gualenghi d’Este Hours, Ferrara, Taddeo Crivelli, about 1469

Morrison points out all the symbolism that is associated with this image: Catherine keeps her finger in place in a book signifying her great intelligence, the dog at the bottom is a sign of loyalty, the anchor and lilies in the right border may be emblems of her family, other border images of a seahorse and pelican are enduring religious symbols. These short images — Twitter for the Middle Ages? — were included so the viewer could take in the whole meaning with just a glance, explains Morrison.

In addition to the horrific images of martyrdom on display (including St. Sebastian whose death by numerous arrows has captured the attention throughout centuries of retelling), the exhibition features saints celebrating the simple joys of everyday life.  Morrison presents a large biography of St. Hedwig which was commissioned by her descendants years after she was canonized.

After a life as a mother, wife and noblewoman, St. Hedwig — along with her husband — decided to join in a communal life with fellow religious leading a chaste life doing good deeds. “She was a very down-to-earth woman whom you could easily relate to,” she says of St. Hedwig’s small acts of daily devotion.

On the page are images of Hedwig honoring the life in the convent but showing her thanks to the stairs, the choir loft and even the hand towels. “Her humility is what we see as a model of devotion,” says Morrison adding that her image was particularly inspirational since many other female saints were either virgins or martyrs. “She was a role model to mediaeval women leading regular lives to perform small acts of devotion every day.”

“Miracles and Martyrs: Saints in the Middle Ages” will feature new images rotating at various times through the exhibition. Upcoming events related to the exhibition include:
—A panel on “Why Do We Need Saints?” (Oct. 30, 7 p.m.), presented by Zocalo Public Square, discussing saint devotion, how popular and regional movements have created saints, and what saints have offered to those who love them.
—Gallery talks led by curator Elizabeth Morrison (Nov. 19, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11, 2:30 p.m.).
“Miracles and Martyrs” runs concurrently with “Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister,” on view through Feb. 2, 2014 at the Getty Center. This exhibition showcases 12th-century stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral, plus an extraordinary manuscript made in the same period at St. Albans Abbey that features a section focused on the holy individuals associated with each of these two English institutions: St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury and Christina of Markyate at St. Albans.

“Miracles and Martyrs: Saints in the Middle Ages” will be featured through March 2, 2014 at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Brentwood. Information: (310) 440-7330

Joy and Fellowship Amid “Battle of the Brains,” The Tidings, March 2012

St. Lawrence Martyr and Holy Family receive top honors at Academic Decathlon 

By Brenda Rees

On a recent Saturday, 1,000 kids spent their day off from school to take test and test after test. And they were happy – no, ecstatic – about doing it.

Representing 100 schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, these middle school students participated in the Academic Junior High Decathlon, an annual cerebral competition at the Los Angeles Sports Arena where school teams go brain-to-brain with their fellow Southern California Decathletes.

Overall top honors went to St. Lawrence Martyr (Redondo Beach) and Holy Family School (South Pasadena); these two Decathlon teams will represent the Los Angeles Archdiocese at the statewide competition to be held May 5 in Orange County. In a break from tradition, this year, the top two schools will represent the archdiocese given the enormity of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“The whole experience of Decathlon is a testament to Catholic education,” says Kathy Wise, head coach for St. Lawrence Martyr. “It’s an awesome experience for any school and it was fun for us to watch the neighboring tables win. Our philosophy has been to work hard, treat each other with respect and kindness and know that God and faith are in the center of all that we do.”

Wise’s two daughters graduated from the school years ago (last one is 2006), but the program still draws her back to volunteering her coaching duties – she’s been involved in Decathlon since 2004. “I really love the program and being around kids who have a joy for learning is fantastic,” she says.

Indeed with a 6:45 a.m. call, the day started early for Decathletes, but even more so for the team from Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara who set their clocks for 4 a.m. to make the trek into downtown Los Angeles. “It’s a great opportunity to show your skills and be with your friends,” says team captain Rachel Fields who has participated in now three Decathlons. “I try to tell my other teammates to do their best and not stress so much. We’re all in this together.”

All through the day-long challenge, the mood on the sports floor fluctuated between joyous jitters and infectious excitement as an estimated 3,000 spectators vigorously clapped, frantically waved signs and enthusiastically cheered.

“It’s really surreal experience,” says Gabriel Alpuerto from St. Dominic School in Eagle Rock; “It’s cool to be able to say you did it because we all like the challenge,” adds Matthew Perez from St. Philomena in Carson; “It’s a wonderful way to have fun with your friends and learn at that same time,” sums up Naomi Dupres of St. Anthony of Padua in Gardena.

After the official testing finished and with loud dance music playing, the students blew off steam with an impromptu conga line weaving through the tables; up in the bleachers, spectators started a “wave” which further fueled the party-like atmosphere on the sports floor.

Founded in 1989 by Dr. Mark Ryan who taught at St. Aloysius School in South Central L.A., the decathlon began as a small competition involving a handful of schools from the greater Los Angeles area. It has since grown to become a statewide event involving Catholic junior high students from across the United States.

The Decathlon consists of three segments – the Logic Quiz and the Super Quiz (which all 10 teammates participate) as well as individual events that include: Roman Catholic doctrine, English, Literature, Science, Mathematics, Current Events, Social Studies, and Fine Arts (Art and Music).

While final scores were being tallied, the Eucharist was celebrated on the sports floor by Msgr. Patrick Loftus who told the Decathletes that while pride is the greatest of all sins, he was giving them all a special dispensation. “Just for today, you are allowed to feel pride for what you have done today,” he said, later encouraging them to “take what you know and put it to good use…that’s a life long endeavor.”

Finally, during the awards ceremony,  medals were distributed with eager students racing up to the platform to receive the well-deserved prize. They returned to their seats with hugs and smiles, everyone elevated by the day’s activities.

“I think for any school that is considering forming an Academic Decathlon team, they should come [witness part of the competition], participate in the beautiful Mass and see the joy in the student’s eyes at the awards ceremony,” says Lisa Barker, science and math teacher as well as Decathlon coach at Holy Family, whose team will be going to state. “Students will see how the kids work and support each other. It’s rewarding on so many levels.”


In Memory of Jeff, The Tidings, March 31, 2011

Talking with Joe Domand about the loss of his 22-year-old son Jeff to a car accident was difficult — what parent doesn’t have such fears? Still, Joe and wife Rita, originally from Haiti, decided to turn their grief into a memorial of life for the people of their homeland by sponsoring a school in a rural area. The best turn: the school is located in the house where Joe and his 16 siblings grew up in. Talk about giving folk the “shirt off your own back…”

Here’s the story:

In memory of Jeff
A parents’ grief turns into helping hands for their Haiti homeland

By Brenda Rees

Having your child die tragically at a young age is a defining moment for a parent. Anger, sorrow and fear mix together into a personal sense of loss that is permanent, unyielding. The strength and determination to go on with life after such an emotionally painful devastation can evade some parents for weeks, months and even years; some may never find their way.

Joe and Rita Domond, parishioners at Our Lady of Assumption in Claremont, know those murky waters of grief all too well, but they eventually found a way to honor the memory of their eldest son Jeff, a graduate from Damien High School and a senior at Cal State Fullerton, who was killed at the age of 22 in a car accident.

“He died on Labor Day weekend in 2004,” says Joe about those difficult days. “It was so hard for us to cope with the loss, and after a while, we realized that the best way to handle this was to keep his name alive. We needed to find a way to make that happen.”

It took about a year for the Domonds to come up with the right platform to honor Jeff, turning their attention back to their native Haiti and the many forgotten children and citizens who reside in the rural areas of that Caribbean country.

Both Joe and Rita immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, and both kept strong ties with their native land. As one of 17 children, Joe grew up in Marbial, an area in southeastern Haiti known for its many rivers and farms. Growing up, he remembers the poverty of the area, but says he was fortunate to have received schooling with help from the local parish priest.  “The priest gave me opportunities and got me into the right schools,” he says. “He helped to change my life.”

Now, the Domonds are changing lives again in Joe’s old community. Organizing the Jeff Cherubin Domond Foundation as a non-profit in 2005, the Domonds have established and funded a parish school which originally welcomed 15 students, but now counts its enrollment at 84. They didn’t look too far to find the school building – they transformed Joe’s old house, the place he was born and raised, into classrooms that have been similarly transforming children into students of the world.

Every year since its inception, the school has added a new grade so students will progress together all the way through graduation. The Foundation pays for not only the teachers’ salaries, but also covers the cost of uniforms, books, papers and other necessities. In addition, the Foundation has built new classrooms to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

Establishing a school was only the first goal of the Foundation, says Joe. The Foundation also educates adults on basic life skills and four times a year brings doctors, nurses and dentists into the area. This June, Joe will return again to his homeland, accompanied by medical team. “There are no doctors in the area, and the only healthcare is done by the nuns, but they aren’t RNs,” explains Joe. Children and adults line up at the local church for routine physicals, dental work and simple medical supplies.

“I remember this one woman was so excited [about receiving treatment] she jumped up and gave me a big hug,” says Hugh Menton, a fellow parishioner who joined the Domands back to Haiti a few years ago as an assistant dental hygienist. “People were very pleasant to me and that even though they didn’t have much, they weren’t living in squalor or desperation. But you could tell they were living a hard life out there in the middle of nowhere.”

Indeed, one major problem living on the outskirts of civilization is the lack of potable water. And with last year’s earthquake nearly destroying Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince and the subsequent outbreak of cholera, Joe realized that Marbial needed a better supply of clean water. (That earthquake struck far enough away from Marbial so the community didn’t experience any destruction – but, like most rural areas, these communities are seeing more family members moving away from the rubble of the cities and back to reclaim their lives in a simpler locale.)

Now, the Foundation has another goal of clean water and Joe is working to bring sand water filters into every possible place in the Marbial area. He works collaboratively with the parish to install and maintain the filters which cost about $100 each. “We are first bringing them to the school, churches and then we will go to the family levels,” he says. “Everyone needs clean drinking water.”

When Joe is not in Haiti – he usually goes four times a year – he is back in Claremont as the only employee of the non-profit organization. He’s long retired from his previous life in finances and real estate, but today he works probably harder at this than any other endeavor.

“The Foundation has grown so fast and it takes so much time to put all of this together, especially the medical trips,” he says. (Medical personnel pay their own transportation.) “Our original idea was we would just start a kindergarten, but we have moved so far ahead of that in such a short time.”

Many fellow parishioners at OLA, like Menton, met Joe and learned about the Foundation through the “Just Faith” program. “It’s all about the church’s social teachings, especially about poverty in the world,” says Menton who recalls Joe talking about his work in Haiti, but in a very low-key manner. “He was very humble about it,” he says. After the 30-week program, many of the “Just Faith” participants decided to help Joe’s Foundation through contributions, hands-on assistance and fundraising. That continues to this day.

Once a year, a fellow parishioner opens up her home and has a fundraiser with dinner, dancing and a raffle. Joe shows slides and talks about the work that’s being done in Haiti. The faces of the people, his people, and the children give him hope for the future – and helps soothe the pain that still lives in his heart with his son’s early death.

“Jeff was a people person and he loved little children,” says Joe. “He loved it when nieces and nephews would come over to our house. They loved him, too. I know he would be pleased that his name is helping these children so far away.”

“I know Jeff is still with us and that his name is still alive to us,” he continues.” But the work we do is not about him, but it’s about how helping others achieve a better life is bringing Christ alive in the world. We are all called to this work every day of our lives.”

To find out more about the Jeff Cherubin Domond Foundation, visit

Remembering Scott and Jean Adam, The Tidings, March 4, 2011

An American couple on a dream trip — sail the world’s seas, meet new people, share their faith in a friendly not pushy manner, experience all that life has offer. In late February, 2011, this Santa Monica couple was found shot to death after U.S. forces boarded their hijacked vessel.

Here’s the emotional story that I did for the Catholic weekly publication, the Tidings: 


Remembering Scott and Jean Adam

Friends recall gentle, down-to-earth people who wanted to combine their love of sailing with their faith.

By Brenda Rees

Nearly two weeks since the death of Scott and Jean Adam, the memories and inspiration of this gregarious sailing couple is strong in the hearts and minds of those who consider the husband and wife as dear friends, fellow parishioners, and inspirational Christians.

The Adams, who for the past seven years have been on an around-the-world-boating adventure and acting as “friendship missionaries,” were taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Oman in the Indian Ocean; they were found shot to death after U.S. forces boarded their hijacked vessel. Traveling with them were friends Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle who were also killed.

Funeral services are pending at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica where the Adams were parishioners.

“There’s a definite emptiness here. When someone’s gone that’s when you realize how many people they touched by their presence,” says Ed Archer, who conducted the St. Monica’s choir that Jean sang at regularly for many years.

Many recall the gentle but outgoing Jean, a 66-year-old retired dentist and Scott, a 30-year veteran of the entertainment industry who, with a spiritual awakening late in life, took to studying at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena where he received two degrees: Masters of Divinity and Theology. Both had been previously married; both shared a love of sailing and both had a deep spiritual side.

Scott and Jean were married at St. Monica’s in the late 1990s and were, as Archer recalls, active participants: along with being in the choir, Jean was involved with small faith groups and Scott assisted with liturgies and even helped establish the fledging liturgical dance ministry group, Flight.

Archer remembers the generosity of the Adams who joined him and other adult chaperones in 2000 to bring 35 high-schoolers to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “They really wanted the opportunity for the kids to travel and sing,” says Archer who added that personally, the Adams were financially responsible for eight students to make that trip. They also secured donations so six others could go as well.

When the word came down of the Adams’ deaths at the hands of the pirates, Archer and members of the choir gathered in prayer. “We were feeling all kinds of emotions, anger, sadness, devastation,” he says. “What was especially hard was to see all the idiotic things people were posting online about Jean and Scott, how they were trespassing or pushing religion on others. They couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Indeed, the couple’s goal in traveling the world from aboard their 58-foot custom-built yacht, dubbed the Quest, was two-part: combine their love of adventure with their faith.  Jean’s postings on their website (, is a cheery colorful travelogue featuring photos, small stories, snippets of sailing experiences as well as their desire to distribute bibles – but only to those who ask for them. The couple started their six-month on and six-month off pattern of exotic travel followed by docking back in Los Angeles in 2005. Over the years, they visited hundreds of places including numerous tiny islands in the South Pacific, discovering small villages, churches, hospitals and schools.

Bibles weren’t the only things the couple handed out. In one instance, they gave up some of their gasoline so locals could fuel their lights for an evening soccer game. Someone requested crayons and pencils, so both Jean and Scott ransacked their boat to find every available writing instrument possible.  Sometimes they would speak at local Christian churches followed by dinner with the villagers and perhaps time enjoying local music, dance or other customs.

“What they were doing was ‘light evangelization,’” says Jim Muneno, St. Monica’s parishioner who, for 12 years, was in the same Faith Sharing Group with Jean. “Their intent was not to convert, but to spread the Word of God in whatever way they could.”

“It’s ironic because their mission was pretty low-key and only their friends and family knew what they were doing,” he continues. “Now, the whole world knows what they were doing. They never wanted to be famous or well-known but now, in a way, they are.”

For Muneno, the Adams’ deaths was particularly trying. “I had just written a song, ‘Thank You Jesus’ because our family has gone through some hard times and God had given us guidance and help along the way. On the day I went into the recording studio, I found out they [Jean and Scott] were killed. How could I record that song? We prayed for them but those prayers weren’t answered. It really is a challenge and we continue to struggle with it, but it hasn’t made us pull away from our faith.”

Muneno is not alone in his struggles. Dan Carlock sailed with the couple on two voyages, having met them originally at St. Monica’s, and he wonders how to reconcile the Christian ideal of forgiveness and yet demand that some sort of justice be done. “I don’t want people to sit back and not do anything about this; I don’t want what happened to Scott and Jean happen to any more people,” he says.

“I think of them as second parents,” he explains. “I admired how very low-key and in a down to earth way they supported the Catholic and Christian faith as they traveled from island to island,” he says. “I miss them terribly.”

Maureen Martorano counted Jean as one of her best friends, both met at St. Monica’s choir practices. “She was so much fun, great sense of humor and always upbeat,” she says. “[She and Scott] were the kind of people who took control of their lives and didn’t wait for things to happen. They went out and made things happen.”

Martorano said she last saw her friend at Christmastime when she came to visit her Faith Sharing Group. “She was so full of life and excited and some of us were worried for her because we knew the area they wanted to sail into.  She told us to ‘Just pray for me, OK?’ I really loved her as a friend and I’m sad to not have her around. But now, we have another saint in heaven.”

For many of the Adams’ friends who are grieving with loss, the reality of heaven after death – as well as memories of happier times – are what they turn to for comfort.

“I am extremely grateful to God that I could serve these two great people,” says Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, pastor at St. Monica’s. “Jean was my dentist for many years and I have always found her to be a gracious woman. Scott was my friend and a blessing to our community. He was alive and joyful and wanted to continue his studies and gain a deeper appreciation for the life of Jesus Christ.”

“I really do believe they have won the crown for being good and faithful servants,” he continues. “They have given us an example of how to follow Jesus Christ. But I want to add, that to be people of peace, we must work to end violence in this world. Whenever that violence is.”

At the family’s request, anyone who would like to send cards may do so in care of St. Monica Church, 725 California Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, 90403.  Further, if anyone wishes to make a donation on behalf of Jean and Scott Adam, the family has asked that memorial gifts be given for the St. Monica Catholic Church Music Program.

Read at a recent prayer service at St. Monica’s for Scott and Jean Adams

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer