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September 15 - 28, 2013

At 100, she’s still painting with the help of the Spirit

Sister of Mercy Solina Hicks paints in her studio at Mercy Convent on the campus of St. Xavier University on Aug. 29. She started the art department at St. Xavier. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Painting by Sr. Solina Hicks. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Painting by Sr. Solina Hicks. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

This collage of some of Sister Solina's sketches is in her studio. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A sample of Sister Solina's work with enamel. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Sister Solina's drawing of a station of the cross. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

An early modern art drawing of Sister Solina's. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Painting by Sr. Solina Hicks. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Sister of Mercy Solina Hicks sits in her studio on the campus of St. Xavier University on Aug. 29. She founded the art department at St. Xavier. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Joyce Duriga

Editor

Nearing her 101st birthday next month, Mercy Sister Solina Hicks can no longer see well but that hasn’t stopped her from picking up her paintbrushes and continuing her lifelong work of creating art.

“I leave it totally to the Holy Spirit now. If it turns out it turns out,” she said one recent afternoon in her studio at Mercy Convent next to the campus of St. Xavier University.

Sister Solina has been drawing or painting since she was a little girl. Originally from Wisconsin, she joined the Mercy Sisters in 1934 and taught for a time in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In the mid-1950s Sister Solina was asked to start the art department at then-St. Xavier College and served as its first chair until 1965. She focused on teaching students modern art techniques because she said, “if the church has to deal with the modern then there has to be modern art in the church.”

She studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and earned her masters in fine arts at Sienna Heights in Michigan. She created the St. Xavier College shield in 1952, which is still in use today.

In 2008, at age 95, Sister Solina created a series of portraits titled “Seeing the Kingdom of God in Nigerian Women.” The inspiration came from photos her cousin Esther Hicks, director of Catholic identity and mission for the Office of Catholic Schools, took on a trip to Nigeria for a partnership with Nsukka schools. Paintings and prints of the women were sold to raise money for the effort.

She’s worked in different mediums — pencil, enamel, metal, watercolors — but acrylics are her favorite.

Since her eyes began to fail, the nun always signs her work “H.S. Solina” — the H.S. stands for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always works with the artist, she said. “The Greeks realized that and they called it the muse. We Christians understand that the Holy Spirit works through us,” she said. “We don’t always talk about it but it’s true.”

She says many people enjoy paintings of flowers because they remind them of God.

“Maybe that’s just a step of seeing the beauty of God’s love that is everywhere in the world.”

Beauty gives us a good feeling inside and feelings come from God, she said.

“God meant us to be happy. We have to accept everything in his time but God is love and love is joy.”

Why does she still paint when she can’t see well?

“God must want it because I had no doubts when my eyes went bad that I could still paint a picture people would want,” she said.

Soon she will be 101 — “Not my idea,” she said. “That’s God’s idea.” — and she will continue to paint and leave it up to God.

“If it works out then I will know that’s what the Holy Spirit wants. We’ll see.”