Using ‘street’ art in Kolbe sanctuary

By Gianna Canevari | Contributor
Sunday, July 3, 2011

Artist Salladeen Muhamyn completed the third phase of the Sanctuary at Kolbe House, the jail ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, during a Mass and dedication at Assumption Parish, 2434 S. California, on June 10. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Father Larry Craig dreamt of one day creating a sanctuary for Kolbe House Ministry that would serve as a place of peace for those who have been affected by crime. On June 10, the dream of this priest, who died suddenly in 2006, came one step closer to fruition, as the four inner panels of double triptych doors were dedicated at Assumption Parish at 2434 S. California Ave.

Less than a mile from the Cook County Jail, which houses nearly 10,000 inmates each day, Kolbe House, the archdiocese’s prison ministry, serves as a sanctuary for ex-offenders, family members of the convicted and all those who have been affected by crime. Kolbe House is the only parishbased jail ministry in the United States.

The entirely airbrushed doors, by artist Salladeen Muhamun, depict dark scenes of the streets: caution tape surrounding a slain body, a thunderstorm, a mourning woman; life in jail: letter-writing, orange jumpsuits, cinderblock walls; and then the possibility of redemption: paper dolls dancing in a circle and hands reaching from a bright sky holding a heart, on whose front says “Kolbe House” in the shape of a cross.

“It is a place for ex-offenders so they can come back for sense of community,” said Father Arturo Rodriguez-Perez, who began ministering at Kolbe House in 2003.

Since the death of Craig, Rodriguez- Perez has served as administrator and pastor of Assumption Parish. He was appointed director of Kolbe House in the fall of 2007, a year after Craig’s death.

This phase is the third of four that will complete the works of art in the sanctuary gallery. The first phase, the most inner panels of the doors, was completed by artist Victor Lopez in 2007. The second phase, by Jaimie Arregiun, depicts two angels against a brick wall clad in Department of Corrections uniforms. The completion of the fourth and final phase, two more planks on the triptych door, is expected in time for the sixth anniversary of Craig’s passing.

The sanctuary is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who gave his life in a Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, in 1941.

Calling the sanctuary a “house” is to convey the sense of community that it promotes. Although volunteers meet in Assumption Parish, 30-year-old Kolbe House stands as an idea; a location for spirituality and healing, said Rodriguez- Perez.