By Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Icons created by students of Sr. M. Marcia Klowan (right), OSF, are blessed during a special ceremony at St. Basil's Ukrainian Church Lancaster.
Joining sister are David Barnas, a student of Sr. Marcia, and Father Roberto Moreno, Administrator at St. Basil's.
Sister Marcia Klawon, OSF, retired from her teaching in late May, but leaves a legacy of art behind.“I’ve been teaching icon painting since 2003,” Sister Marcia said. “The last class was a four-day class extended over two weeks. It takes approximately 25 hours to paint an icon.”
Sister Marcia was drawn to the Eastern Church and its spirituality, studied it, and took several icon courses from iconographers.
“I grew in a deep love for icons and their place in the Eastern Catholic Church, and I then I wanted to share that with others,” she said. “I also gave oral presentations to parishes.”
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means “image writing.”
On May 9 th, Sister Marcia and some of her students took their finished icons to St. Basil’s Ukrainian Church to be blessed at the evening liturgy by Father Robert Moreno, pastor. One of her students, David Barnas, was also present with his students.
“David is going to carry on this ministry after I retire,” Sister Marcia said. “He was my assistant and then he taught his first class.”
“I discovered Sister Marcia through a newsletter from the Columban Center,” said Barnas. “I had just come back from a retreat and seen an icon of the Virgin of Tenderness, and I remember thinking ‘what is this all about?’ Then in the newsletter was an advertisement about a talk on iconography. I went to the talk and found out that she taught iconography, and I took the class, which at that time was a weeklong retreat. It was much more than learning to “write” an icon.”
Barnas spoke about how he came to follow in sister’s footsteps as an iconography teacher.
“She is very dedicated to the iconography process, and she told a story of how she could evangelize the faith and spread the Good News through it,” said Barnas. “The icons are a visual image of Scripture, and I think that’s important to get back into. Usually I research things thoroughly before I get involved in them, but this time I didn’t want to cloud my mind with what books have said on the subject. So I just went in there and did it, and I said, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ When I was done with my first icon, I looked at the poor quality of the artwork and it didn’t matter because it was a prayerful experience.”
Over the years Barnas took more classes with sister to create more icons, and Sister Marcia eventually expressed her wish for Barnas to carry on her work. Before his first class as a teacher, Barnas felt trepidation, but it disappeared in the end.
“I realized during the class that it’s not me doing the teaching,” recalled Barnas. “I believe as a Catholic that the Holy Spirit was there and we (the students and I) were in a prayerful event. After we got past the structure of what we were supposed to be doing, we let go, and I came out feeling, ‘I’m going to do another one.’ I truly believe this is something God brought me to. If He chooses to change my direction, I will be willing, but for all intents and purposes, I plan on doing this as long as I am able.”
Sister Marcia believes that iconography brings people closer together in faith.
“In May 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter called the ‘Light of the East’ in which he encouraged us to be open to the Eastern Catholic Church. He said that we Roman Catholics have been breathing with one lung.
“We have in the Western Church lost so much of the beauty of images in our churches. We’ve almost stripped the churches of the beauty which drew so many of us into the sacred presence of God. When you enter an Eastern Church you see the beauty.”