Mount Saint Mary College Sister Jo-Ann lectures on the arts as preaching

msmc_lectureBy Matthew Frey, Director of News Services
Mount Saint Mary College

As a prelude to the Lenten season, Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti, OP, revealed to the Mount Saint Mary College community how the charism of the Order of St. Dominic has been supported by its involvement in—and practice of—the arts.

The lecture was sponsored by the Mount’s Catholic and Dominican Institute.

Some 800 years ago, St. Dominic de Guzman promoted Christianity while living a simple, joyful life. His ideals were the catalyst for the Order of Preachers: A worldwide community of religious and lay men and women with a tradition of study and faith in which Mount Saint Mary College is steeped.

Sister Jo-Ann , art and spirituality coordinator at Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, explained, “The early brethren studied the liberal arts—theology, literature, philosophy, science, history. For Dominicans, life is study, and study makes you better in your life. Education is very, very important as a ministry for Dominicans.”

She continued, “The liberal arts lay a foundation for us to build a life upon, not just to get information about. We have a way of questioning life, and being able to live with the paradoxes that life sets before us.”

In a reference appropriate to Ash Wednesday, she added that cultivating the tradition of St. Dominic is about “tending the flame, not worshiping the ashes.”

“Being faithful to the Dominican tradition doesn’t mean staying locked up in the 12th century, doing and repeating what was done before,” she said. “It means getting in touch with the spirit that spearheaded the movement, which for Dominic, was grace.”

One way Sister Jo-Ann “tends the flames” is through photography and writing. Her religious poetry has appeared in national and international magazines, and galleries in New York and Connecticut have housed her photography.

She is also the author of the book “Remember, Return, Rejoice: Journeying from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.”

“With the arrival of Ash Wednesday, we’re faced again with the Christian imperatives of discipline, self-sacrifice, giving alms, and reaching out in charity to our neighbors,” she writes. “Although these are staples of Christian life, they seem to receive a higher profile during the season of Lent.”

Sister Jo-Ann’s ministries have included teaching at the elementary and secondary levels in New York and New Jersey. Since moving to Connecticut, she has been associate director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Hartford, as well as a reporter and photographer for The Catholic Transcript newspaper. She has also scripted programs for the Office of Radio and Television for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Sister Jo-Ann holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Mount Saint Mary College, and a master’s degree in theology from Fordham University. As a guest preacher in local churches in Northwest Connecticut, she lectures frequently on the 14th Century English mystic Julian of Norwich, as well as the relationship between art and spirituality.

The Catholic and Dominican Institute, established as an initiative in Mount Saint Mary College’s first five-year strategic plan, promotes the college’s heritage of St. Dominic; advances the Dominican charism of study and service; provides a forum for discussion of contemporary ethical issues; and enhances Catholic and Jewish dialogue. Guided by the Mount’s vision and mission statement, the institute welcomes persons of varied faiths and acknowledges different religious traditions as essential to the college’s intellectual and spiritual life.

The institute is directed by Charles Zola, assistant professor of philosophy, with an advisory board of Sister Catherine Walsh, OP, professor of communication arts and chair of arts and letters; Sister Peggy Murphy, OP, professor of religious studies; Irene Nunnari, professor emerita in English; Robbie Bertola, mathematics and IT division administrative assistant; Fr. Francis Amodio, O.Carm, director of campus ministry and campus chaplain; Evangela Oates, instruction and reference services librarian; Sister Cecilia Murray, OP, philosophy and religious studies; Dante Cantú, director of the Center for Student Success; Sandra Cefaloni-Henderson, director of Student Activities; Alexander J. LaPoint, assistant director of campus ministry; Robert Miller, assistant professor of religious studies; and Jeanne Conboy, Catholic and Dominican Institute secretary.

Mount Saint Mary College, 60 miles north of New York City, is ranked a Top-Tier Regional University by U.S. News & World Report, and offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs preparing students for careers in healthcare, business, education, social services, communication/media and more. For more information, visit