Ayda Rose (left) and Thyla Arden created the new mural at Catholic East Elementary School. (Submitted photos)
Catholic East Principal Tim Trzcinko is proud of his school.
It is one of the few five-star Catholic schools in the city, with robust programming. Growth and student achievement scores are evidence of high-quality education. Still, something was missing. Core families remained, but the school was not growing.
Trzcinko and his staff asked, “How can we be the beacon of light and let people know that we’re here in the neighborhood?”
Many ideas surfaced — like utilizing social media and yard signs — but when they looked at the front of the school building, they realized it was not the most welcoming or aesthetically pleasing entrance. Though the school was not in a position to build new facilities, artist and Catholic East fourth and fifth grade teacher Thyla Arden turned to Trzcinko and said, “I can redo the front of the school.”
Trzcinko invited her to draw up a proposal.
They went out with (pastor) Fr. Tim Kitzke, toured all seven parishes, talked through the city’s history, and looked at symbols and focal points in the seven parishes that drew them in. A week later, Arden had a proposal.
Each part of the mural and symbol has pulled in one of the seven parishes to represent them on the school. Trzcinko says it ties back to “we are a parish school, and we are growing kids in the Catholic faith as well as bringing (in) kids (from) outside the Catholic faith and giving them an education that is five star. We should be better recognized within our churches. This was a stepping stone to shedding light on what’s happening at the school.”
Catholic East Elementary School is unique in the archdiocese in that it serves five parishes spread across seven churches. Building a cohesive school culture among students from numerous parishes is no small task — the mural reflects Catholic East’s commitment to interweaving the parishes and bringing back a culture of school and parish connection: the commitment to fostering the feeling that the school, its families and its parishes are one.
The Catholic East Mural, “Let Your Light Shine,” was created and designed to uplift the community in a bold pattern across 64 panels that resonates with Catholic principles and symbolism. The mural activates the neighborhood story, fostering a sense of pride and belonging in the community for all to enjoy.
An open tour where parishioners could come through received positive feedback. Trzcinko was struck by how graduates from Catholic East from the 1970s and 80s were the first ones coming — they didn’t realize that the school was still in existence even though they were still attending the parish for Mass. Returning and seeing a bright, welcoming space for kids was exciting. He notes the enthusiasm has also reached the school families: “It’s been really inspiring. Our kids and families have been driving by the building every day this summer feeling refreshed and like big things are happening. I think it has already had some impact on enrollment — we are already at capacity in several grade levels.”
Trzcinko notes that this mural not only promotes the school but promotes the fantastic things that are being done in these Catholic churches. Beyond the parishes themselves, the buzz is growing. People from the neighborhood have started coming by and asking questions.
Two artists painted the mural: Arden (Instagram: @TheColorofArden) and Ayda Rose (Instagram: @AydaintheOffing), a muralist based out of Fayetteville, North Carolina. The vibrant blue and white mural located on the front-facing building on Murray Street is a celebration of community connecting the surrounding parishes of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Old St. Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, St. Casimir, Ss. Peter and Paul, and the Three Holy Women (St. Rita, St. Hedwig and Holy Rosary).
The muralists chose the colors blue and white in reference to heaven, Mary and the saints. Central to the design is the Eagle. Catholic East Elementary is the home of the Eagles. This same Polish Eagle can be seen on the doors of St. Hedwig and in Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s coat of arms.
The four large panels at the bottom of the mural, or the “root” of the design comprised of roses, pay homage to our Blessed Virgin Mary, “the rose without thorns,” and also to the Three Holy Women parishes, all of whom have rose symbols within.
The roses in the piece are adorned with wheat, grain, olive branches and the fleur-de-lis — a stylized lily associated with purity. One can find prominent designs like this lining the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. As in the parish artwork at Ss. Peter and Paul, a dove flies up to heaven. The complimenting doves fly up and outward toward Jesus Christ in the mural.
The Star of Bethlehem is one of the main symbols associated with the birth of Jesus. It embodies the light of hope and salvation amid the darkness. The same stars can be found on the ceiling of St. Casimir Church.
As a new landmark for the neighborhood, the mural stands as a “beacon of light” that embodies Catholicism, faith values and the importance of prayer, service and learning. The mural is a testament to the rich history of the East Side community.
The blessing of the mural will take place on a Sunday in October at noon, outdoors after the last Mass of the day. Fr. Kitzke will walk parishioners over, have music, say a few things about the school, bless and pray for the community, and talk about the mural’s meaning.