Commonwealth Catholic Charities art gallery: Students express faith and hope through art

Artists from left to right: Ellen, 11th grade, Roanoke Catholic; Taylor, 3rd grade, St. Bridget; Madeline, 9th grade, Roanoke Catholic.

Catholic school students’ art – and faith – are currently on display at Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ Expressions of Hope gallery in Richmond. Dozens of works created by students in grades 1-12 were selected based on this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme of “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community.”

Students utilized paint, pencil, marker, watercolors, and even LEGOs to create truly distinctive works of art.

“We love working with the Catholic schools in the Richmond diocese and are always looking for fun and creative ways to introduce our mission to young people and to help foster a commitment of service to others,” said Katie Dillon, communications manager for Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC).

Six schools throughout the diocese participated in the art exhibit: All Saints, Richmond; Peninsula Catholic, Newport News; Roanoke Catholic, Roanoke; St. Bridget, Richmond; St. Matthew’s, Virginia Beach; and St. Mary’s, Richmond.

CCC Mission Advancement Associate Marnie Mills explained, “Students can express themselves through art in ways that may not be as easy to communicate verbally. Art allows free expression. We loved seeing the ways students connected with their faith and their community through their artwork.”

Some used vibrant colors while other works were black and white. Some designs were abstract while others were figurative. Through their art, the students showcased how schools in the diocese might be different geographically, demographically, or culturally, but are all connected by faith.

Several pieces featured common symbols of Christianity, but the students made them unique. In one work, a cross was formed by interlocking different-colored puzzle pieces with a heart in the center. Another cross consisted of hundreds of tiny, smiling faces of various skin tones.

Many students showed unity with depictions of hands: students holding hands with other students, Jesus holding the hands of children, hands joined in prayer or opened in offering. The hands of Jesus cradled a lamb in one work while the hands of angels embraced the Earth in another. Every hand was doing God’s work in some way.

Tanya Mercado, longtime art teacher at St. Matthew’s, believes art is far more than paper and pencil. “Art is integral to education for numerous reasons. It fosters the holistic development of students by nurturing their emotional well-being and providing a platform for self-expression,” she explained.

One St. Matthew’s second grader created a three-dimensional work of art with hands that can be opened and closed. Inside the hands are items connected both to the Catholic faith and Catholic schools, such as a Bible, mathematical equations, a cross, a school building, and food. The student also created an acronym using the word PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield).

“Art can be deeply connected to spirituality and faith, serving as a powerful means of expressing one’s relationship with God,” said Mercado. “Through art, individuals can convey their beliefs, values, and experiences in ways that transcend language and logic. Art, therefore, serves as a bridge between the tangible and the transcendent, allowing for profound expressions of faith and devotion.”

Julie Carter has been an art teacher for nearly 40 years and currently teaches at All Saints. “I have believed that God is the first artist, and we continue to work towards his idea of perfection and beauty,” she said. “I have been Catholic all of my life, and my faith guides me through the good times and hard in life and at school.”

She asked her students to illustrate their favorite Bible verses or depict acts of community service. One favorite verse was a translation of Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” The artist included a ball of yarn and a baby to help illustrate the text.

Another highlighted verse is Psalm 98:7-8: “Let the sea resound and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing together for joy.” A student brought this to life with a flowing river and a volcano singing so loudly in joy it erupts.

This exhibit is CCC’s third since the gallery first opened in 2023, a year that also marked the organization’s 100th anniversary. Dillon explained that CCC was permanently entrusted with the Nora Houston Foundation and a collection of Nora Houston’s artwork.

A renowned artist and Richmond native, Houston was a lifelong Catholic and social activist. She fought for women’s suffrage and helped Black residents register to vote. She also championed many causes concerning children, such as improving the juvenile justice system, strengthening child labor laws, and increasing children’s access to health care.

“As trustees of her work, we wanted to share her legacy and the contributions she made to Virginia society,” said Dillon. “We created the gallery to permanently showcase her artwork, as well as a rotating selection of artwork from our clients and our community. We want our gallery to be a place of collaboration to showcase our community – both those we serve and those who make our services possible.”

In keeping Houston’s legacy alive, CCC plans to have multiple exhibits every year that display our diverse community. The “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community” exhibit is free and open to the public through July 12.


View the online gallery at


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