By Rachael Jaeger
Sister Mary Ann Osborne, a lifetime member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, possesses a love for humankind as she approaches her spiritual gift in woodworking. During the last several months of uncertainty, she has explored a theme of unity.
“We are all one and what are the consequences and responsibilities that follow from that?” she asked. “Being one with others causes us to drop our egos. It is not about me anymore, but us. It is the calling that has been given to each of us, and hopefully sometime in our life we each make a conscious decision to follow the call to work for oneness.”
Sister Osborne noted that choices affect the goal of unification but hopes all her pieces create a sense of unity within people. With that, a strong conviction resonates within her to speak to Gospel themes that call all people to stand strong together.
“What we have inside of ourselves will eventually spill out,” she said, “and so it is each of our callings to be agents of healing and unity.”
In celebration of Pentecost, she carved a project called Resurrection/Pentecost Cross. Pentecost brought together multiple nations made up of people who heard, spoke, and understood many different languages. She carved in form the Resurrection rays on the wood and the three colors in the stained glass represent the different but unifying elements. Red symbolizes the fire of the Spirit, blue the waters of Baptism, and yellow and gold stand for the sun’s brightness for Easter Resurrection.
Around Easter, she woodworked an image of an Easter Lily springing to life from a collage of tiny multicolored crosses which underlie the bulb. Those crosses together form a bigger one. The imagery conveys that humans are rooted in the context of the cross through their interconnectedness, as well as the idea that new life enters in ordinary ways in things that humans experience every day. She also repurposed the resemblance of the Processional Cross that she made several years ago for the Sister of Notre Dame’s chapel at Good Counsel.
“The stained glass that was added in some of the areas reflects Easter colors and is meant to symbolize Resurrection,” Sister Osborne said. “The lily appears at the top of the cross with the stem coming up from the bulb. The lily signifying new life and rebirth.”
She has also recently completed two other woodcarving pieces based on the unity theme called Spirit of Love and Dwell with Me, which focus around the feast of Pentecost.
“My thinking behind both pieces is that the Holy Spirit enters into our lives,” Sister Osborne writes. “In ‘The Gift of Love’ what I dwelt on was the gift of love and how that energy flows in and out of our lives. With ‘Dwell with Me,’ the Spirit hovers over the waters of creation with fish present, plant life and people. In both of the pieces, we seek the Spirit to enrich us.”
When she hasn’t been creating life from wood, she has been giving life to those around her, such as keeping connected to others through letters and the Internet, and praying or supporting others who struggle. She has exercised self-care by listening to life-giving YouTube talks, reading spiritual books, and listening to music that provides inspiration while she carves.
Sister Osborne has also paid close attention to the effect less pollution has had on the planet during the current pandemic.
“It has been evidence and a good reminder of our calling to care for our common home,” she added.
Sister Osborne’s earliest pieces reflect a social justice theme that has crept into her heart as it increasingly opened to the world around her. She finished her first woodcut piece, One Who Broke through the Darkness, while she was studying her bachelor’s degree in Art in Germany from October 1994 to March 1995. The woodcarving became one of her most popular pieces. The idea came as her emotions were stirred when she noticed all the people crying over lit candles at a homeless shelter during Day of the Dead.
“Why are you crying?” Sister Osborne remembered asking.
“We are praying for our brothers and sisters who died in the cardboard boxes,” they answered.
Many people have reported a sense a spiritual wonder and greater meaning after examining the specific details, unique peoples, and use of symbols in Sister Osborne’s woodcarving. But what she most hopes for is that her woodwork will tell stories relevant to the daily life of ordinary people.
What helps is when she remembers the advice her mentor, Sigmund May, gave her when she was still in Germany -- “Believe in yourself and what you are doing.”