Religious art adds to Catholic identity at Bishop Heelan

View PHOTO GALLERY of artwork


After years in the making, students of Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City were able to attend classes last semester in the new academic wing that opened in January.

Along with technological updates and a climate-controlled environment, Father Shane Deman said the building offers artwork to highlight the school’s Catholic identity.

“Our goal is to be unapologetically Catholic, knowing that strong Christian formation and education distinguishes us from other schools,” said Father Deman, chaplain at Bishop Heelan. “To highlight this Catholic identity, we wanted to make statements through art work that would not only support our Catholic mission but also serve to be educational for students.”

Bishop Heelan portrait

A large portrait of Bishop Edmond Heelan hangs in the school’s entrance above the hallway leading to the chapel, fine arts classrooms and auditorium.

6-14BishHeelanPortrait                Father Deman, who played a role in selecting the art for the building, pointed out the portrait of the diocese’s second bishop made its home at All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland, before the Diocese of Sioux City acquired it in July of 2014. Painted by British artist Leo Whelan, the portrait originally hung in the Dublin seminary where Bishop Heelan had studied.

Msgr. Mark Duchaine, who previously served as vicar general for the diocese, explained the portrait’s journey to the diocese.

“The auction house of Shepherd’s in Dublin contacted the diocese by telephone to bring to our attention the pending sale of Bishop Heelan’s portrait and to invite our participation in bidding on it,” Msgr. Duchaine said. “I did so on behalf of Bishop (Walker) Nickless and we were fortunate in winning out over one other bidder.”

The entire purpose in seeking ownership, he explained, was to make a gift of it to the new Bishop Heelan High School and have it prominently displayed in the foyer.

“When the portrait was delivered to the diocese, upon examination it was readily apparent that it needed a thorough and professional cleaning and reframing; decades of sitting in what might have been the faculty smoking lounge had left it incredibly darkened and dingy,” Msgr. Duchaine said. “We therefore took the painting to the Minneapolis art conservatory where, over the next year, it was completely refurbished and made ready for hanging in the school.”

Whelan, he added, was a notable portraitist in Ireland during the first half of the 20th century who painted many important Irish-American ecclesiastics, as well as many notable Irish freedom fighters. Bishop Heelan’s portrait is from 1936, when the bishop made a trip back to his native land.

Saint images

That portrait of Bishop Heelan is just one element of the art displayed in the new school.

“There are 51 saint images throughout the halls, which highlight both traditionally-known saints but also contemporary figures that can serve as role models for the students,” Father Deman noted. “Each saint has an adjoining plaque that provides a brief biography of their life.”

The images are by Tracy Christianson, a Catholic artist from the Seattle area.

Much care went into placement of the saint images. For instance, St. Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463), patron of artists, hangs in the hallway near the art room; St. Gregory the Great (540-604), patron saint of musicians and scholars, adorns the hallway by the music room and St. Albert the Great (1200-1280), patron saint of scientists and philosophers, is located near the science classrooms.

Some of the modern-day saints included are St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Blessed Stanley Rother.

“I am particularly fond of the saint images,” Father Deman said. “Tracy Christianson has done a great job creating images of saints that are both beautiful yet easily relatable, making the lives of the saints more tangible for us today.”


Various Scripture verses also adorn the walls above lockers – 14 in all – were applied to the walls by Avery Brothers Sign Company to provide inspiration for the students and teachers.

Some examples of the Scripture verses include: “Let your speech always be gracious.” – Colossians 4:6; “Anyone who is worthy in small matters is trustworthy in great ones.” – Luke 16:10; “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:51 and “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” – John 15:17.

“I selected these quotations for the hallways of St. Edmond School in Fort Dodge when I was the chaplain there and used the idea again here at Bishop Heelan,” noted Father Deman.

Avery Brothers also helped to design a contemporary piece of art in the western stairwell that incorporates large images of the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary around the crucifix which originally was in the chapel in the original Heelan building.

“Our imaginations are impacted daily by countless cultural images,” the chaplain said. “Hopefully by spending four years in the halls of Bishop Heelan, these sacred images will leave a lasting impression on our students that will shape the future practice of their faith.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>