Area classical guitarist Adam Keeler converted to Catholicism five years ago and has been searching for ways to bring his musical and religious lives together.
Now the 37-year-old is part of an effort at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in West Akron to increase art and music appreciation — not just in the parish but in the community at large.
The church on Sunday kicked off its Academy of Culture & Arts, which plans to slowly roll out art, music and other courses for children and adults. Most of the classes will be open to the community.
“I’m looking forward to recombining art and religious life ... the Church was leading art for the longest time,” said Keeler, who will teach guitar at the academy.
These days, he said, it seems, “we’re following the artistic path rather than leading it.”
On Sunday, St. Sebastian launched the academy with a visit from Mother Mary Thomas, a cloistered nun and artist with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland.
The event featured about 15 of her paintings and drawings that depict Catholic saints and Biblical events.
The nun, who rarely leaves the cloister in Cleveland, told about 150 St. Sebastian parishioners and others that the arts “are the eyes, so to speak, that unveil the beauty of God.”
Paintings will be on exhibit from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. through Sunday at the St. Sebastian rectory.
The nun, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before entering the monastery, has a dramatic style, using vibrant colors. She said she was influenced by painter El Greco and Mexican mural painters, among others.
St. Sebastian’s new Academy of Culture & Arts is the brainchild of the church’s Rev. John A. Valencheck, who plays a variety of instruments and received a degree in theater arts at the University of Akron before entering Saint Mary Seminary in Wickliffe.
The academy’s inaugural program will be choral music classes for first- and second-graders at St. Sebastian Parish School.
Valencheck hopes the academy will offer courses for children and adults in such areas as guitar, keyboards, Spanish immersion and Latin, open to the general public, by early next year.
Valencheck said fees will be kept as low as possible, and he’s talking with officials from various funding organizations about possible grants for the academy that could be used to offset the cost of courses.
Valencheck noted at the event that too often the religious art that churches end up getting is ordered from catalogs and “is incredibly dull.”
The academy, he said, will serve “to train people in languages and culture and arts... to expose people to the arts and cultural endeavors and also give them a chance for self expression.”
The pastor said: “We may not have a bunch of students who are going to become world-renowned musicians, artists or anything like that. We might have some and that would be great.”
The main goal, he said, is to “get both youth and adults ... to start appreciating art, what is art.”
Then, he said, when decisions are made about where a church gets a new statue, parishioners “are not going to open up a catalog. They’re going to say, ‘Let’s find an artist to do this, so people will come here and look at this statue.’’’
Information about classes will be posted at www.stsebastian.org.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.