About Sr. Paula
“Art is a vehicle for expressing the infinite beauty of God.”
Our founder and visionary leader, Sr. Paula, worked tirelessly to promote sacred art and its value in our society today. A renowned painter and sculptor, Sr. Paula was the only nun to ever be accepted into the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art. She lived her life full of love and commitment for God, art, and her community, and she believed that artists hold the key to restoring a sense of the sacred in our culture.
Sister Mary Paula Beierschmitt, I.H.M., was born Marianna Bierschmitt, one of four children of Francis and Adrienne (Langton) Beierschmitt. Raised in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining town in Northumberland County, Marianna attended parochial schools and from an early age pursued interest in the artistic disciplines of drawing, painting, ballet, acrobatics, drama, and choral work.
At the age of seventeen, she entered the Congregation of the sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, taking the name of one of her sisters: Paula. She was assigned to teach primary grades and study, assist with communications at the Motherhouse, and attend to the needs of priests and guests at Immaculata College.
At the age of 38, Sister was sent to study art for one year. She began her studies at Philadelphia Community College, where she was advised by her teachers to enroll in a school that specialized in the fine arts. This was done subsequently in L’Atelier, where a portfolio was prepared, and in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. At the conclusion of this year, the Dean of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts believed an extension on the time allotted should be considered. A second year of study was then granted, during which time sister received national recognition for her sculpture. A decision was made by her Order to complete the requirements for a certificate.
In her third year of study, sister was commissioned to sculpt the founder of the Pallottine Fathers for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic Cathedral Basilica in the United States. An edition of this work for other sites with the Pallottine presence followed. Having completed four years of study in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Sister engaged in more than fifty exhibitions, where she garnered numerous awards at the local, regional, state and national levels.
Advocacy and Service to Artists
When it became evident that artists were not accorded equal status in the educational sphere of the parochial system, Sister consulted with department chairpersons in the major Catholic institutions of higher learning in the Philadelphia area, discussing a plan or procedure to remedy the situation. Further consultation with European educators, theologians, and canon lawyers followed. The prayer, planning, training, and consultation culminated with the founding in 1993 of the American Academy of the Sacred Arts. It was then and remains as a pioneer organization in the United States.
Academic experiences in Immaculata College, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia Community College, L’Atelier, Barnes Foundation and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts gave Sister sufficient background to assess the critical need for a radical change of perception regarding the artistic disciplines, particularly the visual arts. Affiliations with over fifteen local, regional, and national organizations as a member or officer provided Sister with additional insights on the arts that were valid and varied.
Throughout her remaining years, Sister worked tirelessly to secure a place in American culture for artists whose aspirations transcend the temporal plane and focus on eternal truths, thus providing a light in the world of education that cannot be extinguished, a light with the creative power of love and understanding.
Her Final Vision
Sister Paula passed this life, suddenly and unexpectedly, on the morning of the last Saturday in September 2013. Her friends, family, and supporters quickly resolved to continue her work and that of the AASA, beginning with the completion of a life-size bronze replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that appeared to Saint Juan Diego in 1531.
The sculpture was completed in the spring of 2015, unveiled at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on May 31 of that year, and remained in the Cathedral Basilica throughout the World Meeting of Families a few months later. There, on the morning of the final Saturday in September, His Holiness Pope Francis (who has a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe), prayed and placed flowers before the sculpture.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Art Auction at Neumann University
There has never been a greater need for sacred artists than the present era. Help support the work of AASA, serving sacred artists and patrons for the greater glory of God.
“Art is a vehicle for expressing the infinite beauty of God.”- Sr. Paula