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Artist uses talent for God's glory, designs statue bound for Africa

 


The Tidings, July 23, 2004

 

Article; By Paula Doyle
 

According to her mother, Mary Catherine Unrein has always been an artist. Yet, it wasn't until a midlife crisis that Unrein, 58, found her artistic niche, creating Catholic art crossing borders as far away as Africa.

One of six children born to Joseph and Margaret Davis, an Irish Catholic family in La Crescenta, California, Unrein was always drawing and creating religious works of art while attending local Catholic schools. "I always felt this would be my life, creating visual realities of what was inside me," said Unrein. "I felt close to God in my art."

However, disillusionment set in during college in the '60s, when, according to Unrein, "hallucinogenic induced art was the accepted art form." Feeling out-of-place as an artist, Unrein decided to drop out of school and marry her boyfriend, Larry Unrein.

"Life went on and children were born and Larry and I worked hard," said Unrein. Their growing family of four children took up her time and art was sidelined. The couple endured difficult economic times when her husband's career as an industrial designer was hit hard due to the growing trend of offshore manufacturing.

"Our plans for the future were becoming hazy and uncertain," said Unrein. "Our oldest child was exploring life as a teenager in all the wrong places. My life went into a crisis, and I started to shut down. Somehow I knew I had to give it all to God because what I was doing wasn't working. But I wasn't sure how to do it."

Healing

The Unreins decided to try family counseling. "We all went to counseling and it was then, at the age of 40, I remembered being molested as a child," said Unrein. "My daughter's rebellion and drug abuse was fragmenting our family, and I was dealing with things I had stuffed [inside] so long that I knew I needed healing." She prayed for grace and guidance.

A friend gave her a set of tapes of a Life in the Spirit seminar given by a Catholic lay evangelist. Praying along with the tapes, "I experienced again my gifts, my goodness," said Unrein. "This touch of God's life within me rekindled my hope and began to give me a new peace."

Unrein started attending a local Charismatic prayer group in Chino Hills and began helping Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Father Mike Maher establish a new parish in the growing community. She was asked to use her artistic talents to paint a 10 ft. by 12 ft. backdrop for an upcoming Charismatic Conference with the theme: Abba, Father. As she was painting the picture of Christ holding a little boy on his shoulder, her unmarried daughter informed her that she was pregnant and that her friends were counseling her to get an abortion.

New life

"I had a sense that something was going on and I kept praying for my family and kept painting," said Unrein. "My daughter would come out to do her washing in the garage and there was 'Abba Father' bigger than life holding a little boy safe and loving." Her daughter decided not to abort her baby, and when the child was born, she gave him the Hebrew name for Jesus: Joshua.

Unrein decided to pursue her art in earnest. She went back to school to finish her college degree. She took sculpture classes and began making crosses out of broken pottery and mother-of-pearl. During this time, she also went on a pilgrimage to Medugorje where she felt spiritually confirmed about her intent to use her talents for the glory of God.

When she returned, she started selling her original crosses and Holy Family wall plaques at crafts and religious fairs, and her business, which she named "Joshua's Stone" was born. She was able to add religious jewelry to her line after meeting a retired master wax carver who taught her his skills in making medals and rings. With her new knowledge, she was also able to create small bronze statues.

Missionary statue

After a visiting missionary priest from Africa saw the bronze statue Unrein had made based on "Our Lady Queen of Peace," the patroness of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, he asked her to create a statue modeled on "Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament" depicted on a holy card.

The card showed Mary with the Child Jesus holding a chalice. She designed a small statue based on the image, which the priest took back to Africa. The local bishop "loved it," said Unrein. She is currently having a 4 ft. statue made for a church in Kenya and hopes to have a larger one made for her childhood parish, St. James the Less Church, in honor of her father who was the first local Eucharistic minister to the sick.

In December, Unrein hopes to travel to Africa with molds of her religious artwork which seminarians in Legos, Nigeria can reproduce for use in their missionary work. "I feel I'm called to this work," said Unrein. "The church needs art to preach the Gospel, perhaps more so today than ever before.