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Sondra Jonson sees her purpose as a Catholic artist as one of teaching and inspiring, like the great Catholic painters and sculptors of old.
BY EDDIE O’NEILL
From the time
she was 5 years old, Sondra Jonson knew exactly what she wanted to be when she
grew up. Her parents, both doctors, had wasted no time instilling in her a love
“I think we were going to museums
before I was sitting up,” she says. “In first grade, art was the only thing I
was good at.”
Today Jonson is an award-winning
sculptor whose work has been shown all over the United States and Europe. Among
her proudest achievements are many works of sacred art inspired by, and
supportive of, the Catholic faith.
Since 1985 her S.L. Jonson Studio in
Cambridge, Neb., has produced sculptures large and small.
Whether creating a veteran’s
memorial for the City of Sioux Falls, N.D., or a religious statue for a local
Catholic parish, Jonson is quick to explain that her Catholic identity is
inseparable from her craft.
That wasn’t always the case. She
entered the Church in 1982, after growing up in a secular Jewish family. As she
describes it, her journey began as a young adult.
“I think my big conversion was just
to become a believer in God,” Jonson explains.
She opened her Bible to Psalm 84 one
night in young adulthood. All at once she “knew that God was real,” she
This sparked her to read the Old
Testament all the way through — and then see what the New Testament had to add.
Suffice it to say that she came away
convinced that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Today, she sees her purpose as a
Catholic artist as one of teaching and inspiring, like the great Catholic
painters and sculptors of old. Says Jonson: “We liturgical artists hope to
inspire those who encounter our work with a sense of the mystery and truth of
In Wichita, Kan., Sister Helen
Lentz, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, counts herself among the
many people moved by the work of Jonson’s hands. Sister Lentz met Jonson 15
years ago, when the sculptor was working on a piece for the congregation’s
Resurrection Chapel in their Wichita convent.
Jonson designed the “Doors of Eternal
Life.” This sculpture presents colorful rays emanating from the sun. It’s set
on the chapel doors leading outside to the convent’s cemetery. These doors are
only opened during funerals for sisters of the convent.
“What she creates comes out of her
own prayer life,” says Sister Helen. “Her work comes out of her deep
spirituality. She is very attentive to what the people who are going to use the
space want. Everybody who comes into the chapel loves her work.”
Asked about her most challenging
projects, Jonson talks about a pro-life memorial she completed a decade ago. It
was commissioned by the local Knights of Columbus for a nearby parish.
The sculpture, “Rachel Weeping for
Her Children,” is based on Jeremiah 31:15-16. “Rachel mourns her children,” the
Scripture reads. “She refuses to be consoled because her children are no more.”
In this life-size bronze statue,
Rachel is depicted prostrate before the Lord. Across her lap is an empty
blanket that would have cradled her child.
“I knew Rachel would touch people
dealing with deep and painful emotions, especially those of parents who have
suffered the loss of a child,” says Jonson. “I prayed constantly while working
on her. My prayer was that God would guide me to make Rachel what she needed to
be for those who would encounter her.”
Weeping” is Jonson’s most collected and widely traveled creation. Seven copies
have been sold and installed across the United States, and one will be
dedicated this summer in Canada. She has also produced a smaller version of the
statue; it, too, is proving popular.
Jonson knows of two abortion
businesses that ending up closing not long after a Rachel statue was placed in
She also received a letter from a
mother who came across Rachel on a trip to Nebraska and, for the first time,
felt God’s mercy and his healing touch after the death of her daughter due to a
“The response to Rachel,” says
Jonson, “has been both inspiring and humbling.”
Vision of Unity
Jonson counts among her satisfied
patrons Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb. He first met the artist
almost 10 years ago when he dedicated “Rachel Weeping.”
it is a secular piece of art or a religious piece, her artwork is inspiring,”
the bishop told the Register. “It is not only nice to look at, but comes from a
deep spiritual depth. She is a splendid artist. I appreciate her vision and artwork.”
Bishop Bruskewitz has commissioned
Jonson to complete a number of new works for his diocese, including a statue of
Blessed John XXIII for a diocesan center.
Bishop Bruskewitz was instrumental
in arranging an opportunity for Jonson to present an 18-inch bronze miniature
of her existing Blessed John XXIII statue to Pope Benedict while on pilgrimage
in Rome last summer.
A self-described “chatterbox,”
Jonson says she was speechless as she shook hands with the Successor of St.
“I wanted to tell him what a big fan
I was,” she says, “but all I could say was ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ He has
this smile, and he just seems like the kindest person.”
Busy with a number of projects in
her studio these days, Jonson is not speechless when asked about her plans for
“What I hope and work for is an
America free from the heavy burden of abortion and exploitation of the human
embryo,” she says. “I long for an American Catholic Church united under the
magisterium and faithful to the foundations of our heritage.”
O’Neill writes from
ON THE WEBSLJonsonStudios.com