SEATTLE - When visitors pause at Holy Family Parish’s new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, artist Susan Scheer-Jasper hopes they will feel an intimate connection to Mary through her work.
“I wanted to create a space where people feel they are away from the secular world and where you can have a spiritual moment with your mother,” Scheer-Jasper said of her curved-alcove design.
For years, the parish’s image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hung in a shrine originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, but members of the parish decided it was time for a change.
“We wanted to find a place to make her space,” said Rudy Alvarado, facilities manager at Holy Family.
So the parish came up with a plan and spent nearly a year raising money for the project, said Father Horacio Yanez, pastor of the West Seattle parish. After an unused confessional was torn out to make room for the shrine, it took a few weeks and many parish volunteers to prepare the space for the shrine, Alvarado said.
Susan Scheer-Jasper stands next to her portraits of St. Juan Diego and St. John Paul II. The frames were constructed by her husband, James Jasper; their sons helped sand the frames, which were gilded by Scheer-Jasper. Photo: Courtesy Jasper Artisan’s Guild
From four applicants, the parish commissioned Scheer-Jasper — a third-generation artist and member of North American Martyrs Parish in Seattle — to design the shrine. Her previous work includes two shrines at St. Mark Parish in Shoreline and a bronze medallion of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 by a delegation from Washington state.
Scheer-Jasper’s design for the shrine at Holy Family includes two 6-foot-tall portraits flanking the parish’s Our Lady of Guadalupe image: St. Juan Diego with Mary’s likeness emblazoned on his tilma, roses spilling out onto the ground, and St. John Paul II, who canonized Juan Diego and declared Mary patroness of the Americas. At floor level, a painted landscape brings to mind Tepeyac, Mexico, the site of Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego. Stars similar to those on Mary’s mantle are painted on the ceiling.
Painting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s tilma was “a moving experience”, Scheer-Jasper said, because “I was painting something that God actually painted himself.”
The whole project had special meaning for Scheer-Jasper. As a young girl, she visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, along with her mother and baby brother. When Scheer-Jasper saw that Mary’s image on the tilma was as a “mestiza” (mixed race woman), she immediately felt a kinship — her mother is Mexican and her father is Hungarian. “I’m mixed, too; she is my mother,” Scheer-Jasper remembers thinking.
With a little “help” from her children, Susan Scheer-Jasper works on the sketch that will become one of her portraits for the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine at Holy Family Parish in West Seattle. Photo: Courtesy Jasper Artisan’s Guild
While Mary is mother to all, Scheer-Jasper is mother to five children ages 9 and under, and she homeschools the oldest ones. The shrine project, stretching over five months, meant sacrifices for everyone in the family, she said. Many nights, she put the children to bed at 7:30 p.m. and painted until 2 a.m. When she had to paint at the church, Scheer-Jasper carried her baby on her back.
She said St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists provided the inspiration to “push through and finish the work. I could not have done this without the grace of God,” she added.
The shrine is “really beautiful and wonderful,” said Gary Samaniego, who was Holy Family’s parish administrator during the project’s conception and construction.
It is also very important to the Latino community at Holy Family, Alvarado said. “It was a labor of love and faith by the whole parish, and that includes Susan’s work.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe festivities
Holy Family Parish will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with festivities Dec. 11-12.
At 7 p.m. Dec. 11, the rosary will be recited, followed by Mass, then food, music and dancing until 2 a.m. The festivities include a reenactment of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance to Juan Diego, dancers, a mariachi band and traditional music. Food will be for sale at the parish hall across the street.
On Dec. 12, the actual feast day, parishioners and visitors will gather at 11 a.m. for a procession to the church, followed by Mass at noon.
All are invited. Holy Family Church is located at 9622 20th Ave S.W., Seattle.