Visitation Sister Suzanne Homeyer stood in the John XXIII Gallery at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis gazing at a recently hung painting. It depicted the back of a nun in full habit carrying a bag in her right hand, walking down a street in Annecy, France.
The painting, Sister Suzanne said, is her favorite among the some 35 pieces of the “Pray to Love: The Annecy, France, Nun Series” by Tennessee artist Anne Goetze on display at the Basilica through May 22.
“Especially in France, it’s unusual [that] one sister would be out by herself,” Sister Suzanne said, but she noted that strictly cloistered communities would have a designated “out sister” to run errands. “And she’s carrying her little bag, so I was thinking she’s probably an ‘out sister’ going out to get some kind of supplies for the community. Her head is very intentionally goal-directed, and it looks like she’s on a path. I really like that about it.”
Sister Suzanne, who visited Annecy in 2009 to celebrate the order’s 400th anniversary, said the solitude of the sister in the painting resonated with her.
“When I entered the order, I was 46. I was the only one in my class, and I was by myself quite a bit,” she recalled. “I didn’t have companions in my formation, so I could really relate to that.”
Two decades of documenting
When Goetze began photographing and video recording her American-born aunt Helen, aka Sister Margarite Marie, and the other Visitation sisters at the order’s mother monastery in Annecy, she didn’t intend for the images and footage to be anything other than mementos of her trips.
But as a professional artist and photographer, she saw the beauty that was there.
“Then as I studied that deeper, it went from the visual beauty to what was deeper in that beauty,” Goetze said, referring to the sisters’ humility and gentleness.
“They’re graceful, too, in the way they walk and the way they live,” she said.
Over a 20-year span, Goetze documented the sisters’ lives in their cloistered monastery in southeastern France. After her aunt’s death in 2014, she realized the images should be shared for posterity’s sake. That’s when she took to her studio to create the “photographic paintings.” Starting with a black and white or sepia print, Goetze paints over it, creating layers and bringing depth to her original photography — realism mixed with impressionism, she explained.
“I believe the Holy Spirit is active always, but sometimes it is not until later on that I can see where and how it has been with me to guide, to counsel, to comfort,” Goetze said. “It has been that same experience as I have been with the nuns and working on the ‘Nun’ series.”
Goetze said it’s that presence of the “living Holy Spirit” that she wants people to experience when they see the nun exhibit, “that they are [as] touched as I am through beauty and grace, the light of art and the enduring love that these women gift us with through their prayer.”
Goetze said she could feel the sisters’ prayers for her family from miles away.
‘Pray to Love: The Annecy, France, Nun Series’
Photographic paintings by Anne Goetze
Exhibit: April 9–May 22 in the John XXIII Gallery at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis
Reception: 4:30 p.m. May 22, with talk at 5:30 p.m.
To see a video of Anne Goetze explaining one of her pieces, visit our Facebook page.
With more access to the nuns while staying in their monastery’s family quarters, Goetze captured both the dutiful and the divine of the sisters’ lives. One piece shows a nun bent over with a bucket in one hand and a broom and dustpan in the other. In another piece, a nun’s wrinkled hands grasp rosary beads.
Captions for the artworks were either taken from her aunt’s letters or were written by Visitation sisters in Tyringham, Massachusetts.
“So, it all is connected and just keeps getting more and more connected, too, which I think is the adventure of what this is turning into as it travels to each city and each monastery where the sisters are,” Goetze said.
While the exhibit has been in galleries and museums, Goetze now plans to take the exhibit to all 11 Visitation monasteries in the U.S. The show at the Basilica, in partnership with the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis, is stop No. 3.
When Goetze returns to Minnesota in May for the exhibit’s closing reception, she plans to visit the Visitation Monastery and Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights. With her son, Nathan Collie, who specializes in nature photography, she’ll spend time documenting the lives of the Visitation sisters in Minnesota, again through photography and video recordings.
Ultimately, she’d like to take the exhibit to Annecy, where the subjects have yet to see the finished pieces.
Sister Suzanne said she’s excited that more people will be able to see the history of the Visitation order, and the venue is significant because the sisters regularly worship at the Basilica.
“People can make the connection — we’re not just seven or eight women living on the north side,” she said, “we’re part of a worldwide order that’s 406 years old.”