Students at St. Michael’s Academy in Thornhill, Ont., put together art work for the school’s annual Stations of the Cross on Holy Thursday. Photo courtesy St. Michael’s Academy

Art school showcases Way of the Cross

By 
  • April 14, 2022

On Holy Thursday, in the gymnasium at St. Michael Catholic Academy in Thornhill, Ont., the lights are dimmed and reflective music is played as classes walk through an artistic Stations of the Cross display.

Created by students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 at the school with the only elementary regional arts program in the York Catholic District School Board, the showcase is an annual event during the Easter season. Each class is assigned various Stations of the Cross and in groups is tasked with creating representations of each station using dance, drama, music or visual arts.

On the showcase day, a Grade 5 student leader is there to explain each station to groups as they come through to view the artwork and also take time for prayer and reflection. 

“It is always extremely emotional to see the students as they’re going around to the different stations,” said school trustee Carol Cotton. “It has a great impact on me to see how they embrace the experience and how much it means to them when it is presented to them in that way.”

“It is a very moving piece to be able to go through that journey with the students and have them really experience the Way of the Cross as Jesus experienced in His journey,” said Tammy Paniculam, a Grade 8 teacher. “Going through those stations with the students leading it really puts that leadership role on them. Coming together to reflect on this as one school community is such a beautiful thing to do.”

After each class is given their station assignment, they’re broken into groups to decide on an artistic representation. In Paniculam’s classroom, station number two depicting Jesus taking up the Cross is represented with stained glass inspired pictures coloured with acrylic paint. In Grade 8 teacher Crystal Chance’s classroom, students used technology to create digital mosaics using the software Google Drawings. Other groups created dramatic tableaus and took still photos for the display.

The school is thrilled to hold the showcase in person this year for the first time since COVID-19

“It’s a great way to gather as community,” said Chance. “We haven’t had the opportunity to do so in the last couple of years to really celebrate everybody’s talents and the wonderful things that come out of our school arts program.”

The Elementary Regional Arts Program includes drama, dance, visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music, digital media arts and communications technology and introduces aspiring artists and performers to the various artistic disciplines. The program offers children the opportunity to either specialize in one area of the arts or to integrate artistic strengths with those of other students across the curriculum.

Principal Dayna Fitzpatrick says the Stations of the Cross event represents the perfect integration of the faith-based objectives and artistic development integral to the curriculum at the school.

“I think the most important thing to take from this as we are journeying is that it’s teaching our students to live the Catholic graduate expectation, but also to live the Gospel,” said Fitzpatrick. “They’re understanding their faith in a deeper way because it’s part of what we do every day.”

More than the opportunity to reflect on their own Lenten experience, students enjoy the opportunity to see how other classes interpreted the assignment. Although students at the elementary school are all from Catholic families, some may be unchurched, says Fitzpatrick, so fostering a two-way connection between church and home is especially important. They strive to manifest a living relationship with the school’s affiliate, The Good Shepherd Parish, to help students not formally churched by their families to understand and embrace the message of Jesus and grow in their faith. 

“All that they’re seeing, discussing and being taught will foster those further opportunities to discuss with their families and bring their faith home and bring their traditions from home back to school,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s just this beautiful circle of community.”

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