Catherine Space Background

19 July 2017 | General Interest


The commission for an art work to fill the stairwell space in the new St Catherine Building was initiated by the Principal, Mrs Robson-Garth earlier in the year.

Creative work on this commission was begun in May 2017 by engaging Siena Social Justice students from all year groups, in conjunction with Sister Sheila  OP, as the facilitator.



First Phase:
Interested students attended a preliminary afternoon briefing. At this time Sister Sheila gave input on ‘Catherine of Siena, Bold Sister’ in order for students to be alerted to her proud place in the Dominican lexicon of those who have gone before us as icons of truth and justice.* In this workshop Students were asked to write down/draw anything in the input that caught their attention so that this could be pooled for potential resources in the development of the art work.

* Sources available: (a) ‘Catherine, Bold Sister’ paper; (b) Powerpoint on Catherine. 

The following are some of the pointers that emerged from this dialogue:

Catherine was:

  • A healer
  • A peacemaker
  • A powerful woman ahead of her time
  • Unafraid
  • A woman of integrity
  • One who searched for truth and justice no matter the consequences
  • Colourful
  • A woman who sees the truth around her
  • Caring
  • A woman always on the move for the sake of the Gospel
  • A woman who carries the world in her heart
  • Catherine is led by God, deeply committed to God’s call in her, responsive to it even though it cost her everything
  • Students were inspired by Catherine’s strength in a man’s world
  • Strong-willed
  • She spread hope to others
  • Caring and healing
  • A disturber, one willing to confront in order to serve the truth of a situation.

Metaphors that were significant to the students were:

  • Fire: as symbol of passion and commitment, as a metaphor of God’s burning love for Catherine and creation
  • Rising sun on landscape
  • Light (both as light, and as a symbol of knowledge, throwing light and truth on a situation); a light to guide our steps now in our time; light in darkness
  • The world
  • Wings
  • A fountain
  • Fish – ‘As God is in the soul, so the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish’ (The Dialogue)
  • Pathway
  • A heart in love with God and everything in the world
  • Trees
  • Always overflowing
  • Torches and crosses

Second Phase:

Students regrouped and during this timeframe the composition of the art work was discussed, including imagery and text that we would wish to use. It was agreed on that the following would be included in the design, directly linked to the visual and written reflections the students made during the initial workshop:

  • A strong element of fire.
  • Use of text with Catherine’s words taken from the three sources: The Dialogue, The Letters, The Prayers.
  • The Drogheda charcoal drawing of Catherine depicted ‘on the move’ was selected for inspiration. The students particularly liked this image from many others that were shown in the powerpoint presentation on Catherine. (Fr Henry Flanagan OP)
  • Inspiration was derived from Aboriginal ‘dot’ paintings for two main reasons: (a) So much of the Aboriginal paintings are about dreamtime, song-lines, going on journeys from one place to another. The students commented that Catherine went on many journeys; (b) If Catherine were here today, the issue around Aboriginal rights is one that she would be fully involved in. We are hoping that focusing on this imagery, students may research and become involved in this Australian justice issue, particularly as it is 50 years since the vote was passed ‘We were counted in 1967; today we wish to be heard’, as one Aboriginal elder said  


  • One student created a canvas that showed fish in water: this was to capture Catherine ‘s words, “As God is in the soul, so the fish is in the sea, and the sea is in the fish.” (The Dialogue)
  • There is a ‘greening’ canvas linked to the environment and our much-needed care of the integrity of creation and our choices that can help preserve it into future generations. This is another justice issue of our time.
  • Spiral: combining the two-fold strength of contemplating (going inwards, depthing our relationship with God) and moving out in that strength to meet our world’s needs (justice, action, compassion).
  • A canvas depicting fire – God’s consuming love for humankind and creation, also symbolic of the passionate love that Catherine bore to others in her life that enabled her to reach out to the broad strata of society, both ecclesial, political and local.
  • Another canvas depicting a flower – one of the students wanted this image included to show Catherine’s singled-hearted purpose, to share God’s love with others; she saw it as a symbol of purity too.
  • Aboriginal symbols of watering holes (Catherine spoke of God as a fountain from whose source we should not move, so as to keep replenishing those in need with God’s own love); song-lines; journeys; food along the way; women gathering together (horseshoe type: also symbolic in one of the canvases representing four synoptic Gospels – Catherine was a woman of the Word).
  • Dominant figure of Catherine ‘on the move’.
  • Text taken from the major sources: The Dialogue, The Prayers, The Letters.   


Third Phase:   

Besides the core group of students who participated in the workshops, various students came in during their lunch break to add some painting to the text canvases, with Sr Sheila completing the painting mid June.