Art teacher turns priest’s vision into a big reality at St. Mary School, Pontiac

Students, faculty and parishioners of St. Mary in Pontiac look on as Father David Sabel offers prayers of blessing for the new image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that now graces the front of St. Mary School. (Provided photo/Danielle Gill)

PONTIAC — The fruits of prayer come in many different forms, in all shapes and sizes. The painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that now graces the front of St. Mary School here is a testament to that.

The idea for the painting came to Father David Sabel during a Holy Hour last spring, as he was thinking and praying about things at the Pontiac parish. Among them was how to “draw attention to St. Mary’s as being a prayerful, helpful, welcoming school.”

A plasterer before his ordination, he said there was “a lot of open space” at the front of the school that needed attention. At the same time, he knew water damage had made restructuring necessary.

“All of a sudden, the vision of Our Mother of Perpetual Help came to me,” Father Sabel told The Catholic Post. “I’m also the spiritual director for the Legion of Mary and that’s the name of our praesidium, Mother of Perpetual Help. I’m sure that fed into how this picture, this thought, came into my head while I was in prayer.”

TENDERNESS, MERCY

The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that now graces the front of St. Mary School in Pontiac is meant to assure all who see it that St. Mary is a “prayerful, helpful, welcoming school.” It was painted by Katy Sartoris, art teacher at St. Mary School for 14 years. (Provided photo/Danielle Gill)

As the parochial vicar and then pastor at St. Mary since 2009, Father Sabel knew just the person who could turn his answered prayer into reality — longtime art teacher Katy Sartoris.

They had worked together on other projects, such as murals for the front of the altar during Lent, and he said the job was hers to accept or refuse. Her love of this image of Mary compelled her to say “yes.”

“What I love about this picture of Mary is how her eyes connect with the viewer. In the same way as the Mona Lisa, her eyes seem to follow or find the viewer wherever you look at her from,” Sartoris said. “Her eyes are full of tenderness and convey mercy, and I see the offer of intercession or help, which the title of the painting expresses.”

Father Sabel wanted the painting to be as large as possible, so after researching mural construction and the materials she would need, Sartoris chose medium density overlay — also known as signboard — for the painting surface.

“We didn’t want to paint directly on the bricks in case there would need to be touch-ups done in the future,” she explained. “Wood panels ended up being the best alternative and joining them and filling the seam as I did achieved the look of one solid panel.”

Her husband, David Sartoris, designed the 2-by-4 structure that supports the back, and the frame.

Paint was another issue, since not all paints are suitable for outdoor murals, Sartoris said.

“Her eyes are full of tenderness and convey mercy, and I see the offer of intercession or help, which the title of the painting expresses.” Katy Sartoris, art teacher, St. Mary School, Pontiac

“I had to determine which colors were able to stand the test of the sun, and which paint brands, finishes and sealers — if any — would best protect from the many seasons of weather the painting would experience,” she told The Post.

In the end, she used exterior house paint, applying three coats of everything. You’ll see metallic gold paint, too.

“A lot of repetition, a lot of layering, but I think that helps give it depth,” she said, noting that it is sealed with clear coat.

“PUT HER HEART INTO IT”

Sartoris started the painting, which is 6 1/2 feet by 8 feet, in late July and finished it in about six weeks.

“I was limited to working during the day, because it was going to be hung outside,” she said. “So you have to have the same lighting that it’s going to be shown in while you’re working.”

It was hung by McCoy Construction of Pontiac on Sept. 30.

While he now leads faith communities in Chatsworth, Chenoa, Flanagan and Lexington, Father Sabel continues in residence at St. Mary in Pontiac. He was asked to bless the painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Oct. 3.

“She just did an amazing job,” he said. “I just loved it. You can tell she put her heart into it.”

Sartoris said she’s very pleased with how it all turned out.

“You’re not supposed to feel proud, but I do have a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Father Sabel said she has plenty to be proud of, however.

“If you look at an icon and then see her picture, to me they’re identical,” he said. “I’ve gotten nothing but rave reviews and compliments.”

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