Amityville Dominican and Houston Associate Collaborate on Healthcare Project

Amityville Sister Barbara Schwarz marvels at how her artwork, like pint-sized preachers, gets around! Like St. Dominic who roamed the countryside to share the Good News, her past and present paintings seem to capture the same itinerant spirit.  Most recently, ten of her abstract paintings were featured in the 2021 International Conference on Communication in Healthcare (ICCH) in a presentation on Compassionate Listening in Palliative Care. Her colorful artwork of shapes and whimsy accompanied a story of a young man awaiting his third heart transplant, entitled, A Wish of a Young Failing Heart.  

The presentation encouraged virtual attendees to consider the importance of listening deeply and holding a compassionate space for the suffering of others.  S. Barbara felt enlivened to have her abstract work enjoyed by healthcare professionals around the world, but also was just as excited that this project was a collaboration between two Dominicans: A Religious Sister and an Associate.

The workshop on Palliative Care was presented by Houston Dominican Associate Phylliss M. Chappell, a physician in Supportive and Palliative Care in Houston Methodist Hospital.  Phyllis was invited to join the Dominican family when her daughter was attending a Dominican high school.

“When I received an email from the prioress of the Dominican Sisters inviting me to a Dominican Family information sharing meeting at the motherhouse, I actually replied that I suspected I received the email in error,” said Chappell, candidly. During associate formation, Chappell struggled with feelings of being an outsider. But now, being part of the Dominican Family, she said, “my sense of belonging, connection and enriched spirituality have supported my work.”

So, how did New York “nun” and an Associate from the Lone Star State meet up? The two Dominicans met at the annual Dominican Institute for the Arts (DIA) gathering where Dr. Chappell offered a Liturgical Dance Prayer. DIA is a grassroots collaboration of sisters, friars, laity and associates of the Order of Preachers committed to preaching through the arts. 

Sister Barbara was there as a multimedia artist who had served as Vice President and President of the Board of DIA. Interested in collaborating, Dr. Chappell liked the idea of combining spoken word and abstract art. “I invited S. Barbara to join me in this project, and she very generously gave me access to her work,” said Chappell. “The art deepens and enriches the impact of the story and its message.”

S. Barbara also appreciated the pairing of healthcare and art because in March 2020 she faced a long battle with Covid-19 and continues to struggle as a long-hauler. “At times, I could not produce art; at times I could,” S. Barbara said. Although she has not been producing at her usual speed, “God has brought me people who seek to use my art, much of it done before I had Covid -19. Now, this art is preaching in a new way.”

“Surviving Covid, healing and connecting with all these people who God sent me, in some ways, it reassured me that my preaching – past, present and future – has a place,” said S. Barbara Schwarz.

Although the paintings featured in the presentation were painted between 2008 and 2015, S. Barbara notes they are still “preaching” in the world. “The pieces have come to have their own lives,” said S. Barbara. “They preach to people in different circumstances. And so, once the artist has let the paintings out, the preaching continues in its venue with whomever views it. These preachings touch people’s lives in ways that I cannot know. These painting have touched Phylliss and helped tell her story!”

S. Barbara’s artwork has found its way around the world from Albania to England. Recently, her video entitled, “Preaching through the Arts” was featured as part the International Dominican Conference “Urbi et Orbi.” As part of she has preached and reached an international audience through her reflections on daily Catholic readings. Almost 100 of her paintings have been featured in the international publication “Global Sisters Report.”