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Sister Stories: Sister Gilmary Lemberg

S. Gilmary

Sister Gilmary Lemberg is full of stories. They flow from a life rich in adventure. Her stories run into each other like multicolored mounds of paint on a palette. She punctuates her tales with laughter - hearty, booming and quite irresistible. This octogenarian and native of Chicago’s south side is actively retired (with the emphasis on “actively”) at Marian Village in Homer Glen, Illinois. There she continues to share her zest for living and her gifts for artistry with other residents and with communities well beyond Homer Glen.

All kinds of classrooms
In 2009, Sister Gilmary celebrated her 60th anniversary of profession as a School Sister of Notre Dame. A lifelong teacher, she has educated a diversity of students in both traditional and non-traditional settings. For over 30 years she taught art to junior and high school pupils, including eight years at her alma mater, the Academy of Our Lady in Chicago. She has also taught in countless seminars, on public television and in several women’s prisons including Chicago’s Cook County Jail.

All kinds of media
She holds a Masters in Art and a Masters in Fine Art from the Notre Dame University. Her portfolio demonstrates an amazing capacity to work in different media – watercolors, oils, ceramics, pottery, wood carving and metal sculpture. She says simply, “I had to learn how to use different media because I had to teach them to my students.” When asked if she has a favorite art form, without hesitation she answers, “Sculpture – carving wood and welding metal – because I love dimension. I love to take hard metal and make it flow.” Her passion for creating large, dynamic pieces has caused her to spend great chunks of time in lumber yards, junk piles and furnace rooms. She has recycled and refashioned tree trunks, scrap metal, old student desktops, and even some of her own creations into stunning works. Many of them now grace churches around the country as well as one in Paraguay – all renovated and renewed by Sister Gilmary.

Art and advocacy
She has always balanced her art with advocacy, working for justice with women and children marginalized by the mainstream. Along with Sisters Anne Mayer and Margaret Ellen Traxler, Sister Gilmary helped establish SisterHouse, a residence for women seeking recovery from substance abuse. It is there that she earned the title “Sister Fix-It” because of her ability to translate art skills to plumbing and electrical repairs.

Today all that lugging of tree trunks and hammering of bronze has taken a certain toll on her mobility. But Sister Gilmary’s curious, inventive spirit is out and about, looking for new ways to speak for the voiceless and bless the world around her with a unique and unforgettable beauty.

   

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