*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 20th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on this day in 1918 that Frances Elizabeth Kent was born in Iowa, the 5th of 6 children to the Catholic Kent family. Her family moved to Canada when she was first born and then when she was 5 to Hollywood, California. (So, this is 1923 Hollywood- a fascinating place, and not yet what it would later become).
She attended the catholic Girls school in Hollywood run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart- an organization she would be forever linked to. Showing an affinity for the visual arts she nonetheless shocked her friends when she decided, post-high school graduation, to enter the convent of the Immaculate Heart in Hollywood and become a nun. She would take the name Sister Mary Corita (Corita means “little heart). She earned her BA from the Immaculate Heart College which by 1941 was beginning to tilt in the direction of the avant-garde. She then took a teaching post in British Colombia until returning to Immaculate Heart in 1947 where she concurrently earned an MA in Art History from USC.
A popular professor, she earned accolades from beyond the church. She won an LA County print competition as well as a California State Fair award for a screenprint entitled “the Lord is With Thee”.
Immaculate Heart College would become a hotbed for a kind of nouveau Catholic counter-culture. And then came Archbishop James McIntyre.
It would be easy to make him the bad guy- and for some, he was. But MacIntyre was an old school Catholic who had been elected Archbishop in part because of his background. McIntyre came to the Holy Office late as he first made his name in finance. And as Archbishop of Los Angeles, he was going to rescue the diocese from financial struggles with a seemingly easy fix: schools.
Catholic Parochial Schools began popping up all over LA in the 1950s and 60s- and these would become cash cows. How? Easy, almost free labor. Some of the nuns would be credentialed and earn degrees, but for most (especially in primary school) they expected life of service in the church and found themselves in a room of 3rd graders (and there is nothing wrong with that! It was just an unexpected twist in a new diocese where everyone seemed to be getting the same call).
As you might imagine, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart wanted nothing to do with cookie-cutter Catholic education and they fell on the other side of the Archbishop with regards to the teachings of Vatican II (McIntyre attended the council and is thought to have voted against most everything progressive that passed).
As sister Corita began to work more commonly in screen printing she began to use the style of the nascent Pop artists. She had been forbidden from representing the Holy Family on account of her avant-garde style. And so she began using common objects and bright colors. She famously created a work entitled “Wonder” in the style of the packaging for Wonder Bread- the colorful discs looking like communion wafers. She created the Christmas cards for the diocese that infuriated McIntyre. She reimagined the campus’ celebration of Mary’s Day not with the standard muted bridal imagery but with colors and art that mirrored the hippie youth culture.
The constant conflict with McIntyre and the diocese led her to ask for a dispensation from her vows. She moved to Boston and continued to create, now without a leash, in 1969 and 1970. In 1974 she was diagnosed with cancer and while her work would be toned down, her reach would grow. In 1985 the Postal Service released a postage stamp with her work- bright fluorescent lines above the word “Love” scrawled at the bottom. It sold over 700 million. In Boston, there is a large gas tank with her trademark rainbow swash. It is thought to be the largest piece of copyrighted art in the world. When the old tank was torn down, Bostonians clamored to have it redesigned on the new tank, and it was.
By 1986 Sister Corita’s cancer had metastasized and she would die by the end of the year. Corita Kent left her works and copyrights to the Immaculate Heart Community which separated from the Catholic Church shortly after sister Corita left.
Do a google image search, check out the Corita Art Center, or dig the recent documentary “Rebel Hearts” for more. I’ve been following her stuff since one of my first art history courses-
Born on this day in 1918, Sister Corita Kent died in 1986- she was 85 years old.
The last word for today comes from Jesus in Luke 11:
And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite “Kents” include sister Corita, Clark, and newsman Kent Brockman. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who would like to note: Sister Corita was an SC alum. Today the Trojans take on the crosstown Bruins- pray for us Sister Corita and Fight On. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.