Carmelite sister to lead art-inspired journey to the soul

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Sister Catherine Martin, shown at the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Lacombe, is a featured speaker at 'The Discerning Heart: A Weekend of Prayer, Reflection and Art,'  Aug. 23 through Aug. 25.
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Sister Catherine Martin, shown at the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Lacombe, is a featured speaker at 'The Discerning Heart: A Weekend of Prayer, Reflection and Art,' Aug. 23 through Aug. 25.

By KarEN Baker

Special to the Advocate

After two years away from the grace-filled grounds of the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Lacombe, Sister Catherine Martin is back.

The gifted artist and Carmelite sister spent that time caring for her brother in Lafayette, but now she is home in her bayou studio, surrounded by the tools of her trade and ready to guide women on an art-inspired journey to the center of their souls.

“The Discerning Heart” retreat will take place Aug. 23-25 at the Carmelite Spirituality Center, 62284 Fish Hatchery Road, in Lacombe, a place of grace if ever there was one. Moss-draped oaks hug the banks of the bayou, and retreat-goers have nothing but 60 acres of peace and solitude.

The retreat is based on the teachings of saints such as St. Ignatius of Loyola and will seek to help participants be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

“My part deals with art and prayer,” Martin said. “You don’t need any expertise in art, though that would be fine.”

The retreat, she said, “is not so much about art as it is about prayer.”

It’s about using art the way Sister Catherine learned to do, letting it guide you along a journey of self-discovery.

“I use art to help a person go to their inner being. It is all directed,” she said. “I lead the participants through a meditation,” she said.

Participants are directed to use watercolors to put their experiences on paper.

“It helps them recognize themselves,” Martin said. “It helps them walk through their life’s journey and express their feelings by creating something out of nothing.

“They seem to like it very much. I have been doing it for 25 years.”

For those who have missed Martin and the intermingling of art with prayer, she is happy to welcome them back, and she welcomes any newcomers as well.

Mostly, she said, she does not want anyone to be intimidated by the thought of painting.

“I give them sheets of paper, and I direct them to think about their past, present and future,” she said

She said she may tell them to “think about when you were a child. What were some of your happiest moments?” And then she instructs participants to transfer those moments onto paper, using watercolor.

“We are expressing happiness and pain through art,” she said. “We are getting in touch with our inner being through art.”

Art, she said in a 2005 interview with the Carmelite Review, “is more than ‘how to paint’ a tree, for example. It’s much deeper. The experience of art is a way of expressing what is going on within.”

Art has been Martin’s full-time ministry since 1997, and it is a ministry she cherishes.

Some of her sketches, such as one of Blessed Mother Teresa, appeared in America magazine and brought her a measure of fame. But she is not interested in worldly fame; she is focused on spiritual fortunes.

“God does speak to the person through their art,” she said in the 2005 interview. “This is the sacredness of this ministry.”

“The Discerning Heart” retreat promises to help participants “be more open to listen, to hear, to discern and to respond to the voice of the Spirit,” said Sister Barbara Breaud, who is one of the presenters in addition to Martin. Breaud will lead a series of reflections, and Sister Terry Falco will guide participants in prayer experiences.

“It is a time for quiet and reflection,” Breaud said. “Sister Catherine is wonderful; she can help anybody create something beautiful.”

If you are in the mood for something beautiful, the retreat begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 and ends with Sunday Mass at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 25.

Accommodations include a private room, three meals Saturday and breakfast Sunday. Art materials are provided. The fee is $185.

Pre-registration is required by calling Falco at (985) 882-7579 To see some of Martin’s artwork, visit her website at sistersofmountcarmel.org/catherineart/catherine.index.htm.