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Archives Painting the Saints along the St. Lawrence
North Country native makes spiritual visible at Massena church

January 17, 2024

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

Saints with a local flair now grace the back ofthe nave at Sacred Heart Church in Massena, part of St. Peter’s Parish.

Seven paintings created by artist Shana Kaminski were hung below the choir loft on Jan. 1, the feast day of the Solemnity of Mary. Four depict patron saints of Massena-area Catholic churches, while three others depict Catholics who ministered in the region and attained sainthood.

“It’s a little bit of Massena identity, a little bit of Massena pride,” Kaminski said on a recent afternoon as she explained the process that led to their creation.

St. Peter’s Parish Pastor Father Mark Reilly said the paintings will serve as a powerful reminder for parishioners.

“You have these paragons of holiness in a local setting,” he said. “That should suggest holiness and sainthood are possible for all of us.”

In each painting, the St. Lawrence River flows behind the saints. Details like a loon in the water and native species of fish in St. Peter’s net add to the local flavor.

The patron saint of St. Mary’s on Cornell Avenue, the Virgin Mary, is depicted with the baby Jesus in her lap in the central painting of the seven. St. Joseph, the patron saint of the church on Bayley Road, is depicted in the painting on Mary’s right. Next to him is St. André Bessette, a lay brother from Montreal who was just canonized in 2010.

The next painting portrays St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who spread the Catholic faith among her Mohawk people in Central New York and near Montreal in the 17th century.

On Mary’s left is St. Peter, patron saint of Massena’s first Catholic Church. St. Peter’s is now the name for the umbrella parish for all Massena-area Catholic churches.

St. Lawrence, the patron saint of the Catholic Church in nearby Louisville, is next.

At that end is a figure of a Jesuit, representing the eight North American Martyrs, all Jesuits, who died for the Faith in the 17th century.

The project got started when Kaminski was talking to Father Reilly at her wedding reception after being married at Sacred Heart in August 2020.

“I just said I wanted to do something for the parish.”

They discussed ideas over a period of time, and that “something” grew into the concept for the paintings. Kaminski was well prepared to turn the concepts developed with Father Reilly into finished works. She has a bachelor’s in fine arts degree from Alfred University and also attended the Sacred Art School in Florence, Italy, from 2012 to 2014.

While studying art, she became interested in Saint John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” where the pope taught: “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.”

Born and raised in Massena, Kaminski, whose maiden name is Smith, knows the area well. She also knows Sacred Heart and Massena’s Catholic scene well. Several generations of her family have been members of the parish.

She put all her art and faith experience to work in creating the display for Sacred Heart Church, she said. Painstakingly, she researched available art of the saints. That included photos in St. Andre’s case. She did sketches and created maquettes, basically clay statuettes, of the figures she hoped to paint. Her husband, Robert, constructed the frames and prepared them for the gold gilt she would apply to them.

Early on, the couple decided to donate the works as part of their church tithing. Much of the planning with Father Reilly was done virtually, as Shana and Robert were living in Chicago for much of that time.

Before Kaminski’s paintings were installed, Father Reilly said the last major artwork installed at the church was the altar table used for the preparation of the Eucharist at Mass. It was fashioned from pews once in use at Watertown’s Holy Family Church and was installed at Sacred Heart in 2017. Such well-crafted pieces play an important role in worship. And Father Reilly admits to lots of nervousness whenever one is readied for installation.

“I knew Shana is very gifted,” he said as he surveyed the finished product on a recent afternoon. “But I was still concerned what might be a great piece of work might just not fit. But gosh, looking at them now, I’m just so pleased.”

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