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Corita Kent

Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart
Rose Pacatte, FSP

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ISBN: 9780814646625, 4662
Details: 128 pgs, 5 3/8 x 8 1/4
Publication Date: 05/18/2017

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Corita Kent, an American nun and pop artist, led a life of creativity and love that took her in unexpected directions. In this engaging portrait, Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, offers an in-depth look at Corita Kent, gentle revolutionary of the heart, letting the beauty and truth of her life and art speak for itself.

Frances Elizabeth Kent's rise to fame coincided with some of the most socially volatile years of the twentieth century. As Sr. Mary Corita of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, she became a nationally-respected artist-though the Archbishop of her home city of Los Angeles regarded her work as blasphemous. Seeing no contradiction between the sacred and the secular, Corita designed the US Postal Service's iconic "Love" stamp and created the largest copyrighted work of art in the world, on a gas tank for the Boston Gas Company. These examples and more exemplify the theology and point of view of one of the twentieth century's most famous and fascinating artists.

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul and the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. Rose has an MA in Education in Media Studies from the University of London and is a candidate for a Doctorate in Ministry in Pastoral Communications. In addition to being a course designer and facilitator for the University of Dayton's online faith formation program, she is the film columnist for St. Anthony Messenger, and a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter on film and popular culture. Her previous book for the People of God series is Martin Sheen: Pilgrim on the Way published by Liturgical Press.

Visit PeopleofGodBooks.org to explore more of the books in this engaging series. You'll find author interviews, videos, reading group materials, and more!

Sr. Rose pulls out the threads of Corita's personality, personal history, and the events of her time, and weaves them together into a vivid image of Corita as woman, teacher, religious, social advocate, and friend. I gained a new appreciation for how Corita subverted the iconography of advertising and secular themes, to say something new-something sacred. She made pop art into spiritual statements and used it to do advocacy for peace and social justice. After reading Corita I could hardly wait to see her work again, this time viewing it with a new appreciation for its expression of Corita's free spirit.
Michele Morek, OSU, Sister Liaison, Global Sisters Report

Corita Kent's story, from her childhood landscape to her journey, both spiritual and aesthetic is told in a linear, intimate and unembellished style that draws the reader close through a clear lens. The writer's subdued affection for and admiration of her subject enables a nuanced understanding of Kent's likely inner dialogue. This influential artist and educator lived a complex emotional and philosophical existence, relayed as if one is being taken into confidence by a sister.
Sarah Yuster, Artist, documentary filmmaker

Corita Kent-the name resounds with whispers, accusations, affirmations and acclaim. But, who was this woman? Rose Pacatte, FSP, answers that question in a balanced and substantive presentation that shows both the inherent talent and crusading spirit of the educator she experiences.
Suzanne Mayer, IHM

Honest, provocative, fascinating, heartbreaking and finally inspiring, Rose Pacatte's beautifully written new biography of Corita Kent is sure to reinvigorate interest in one of the great Christian artists of our time.
James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Corita's life and art has struck a sensitive cord in writer Sister Rose Pacatte. She does not shy away from telling the painful history of the courageous IHM Community-which is essential to Corita's story. Artistically and spiritually, Corita has always been my hero. Her life has influenced my teaching in so many ways-her love of the city, her celebrations of the ordinary, her sacramental visual theology. Pacatte understands the struggle of an artist in an institutional lifestyle. She presents a very vivid picture of a creative, joyful woman who has been an inspiration to so many.
Sister Helen David Brancato IHM, Professor of Art, Villanova University

Sr Rose Pacatte exhibits a literary painting-a triptych of a life destined for permanent collection: a woman artist, catholic wanderer, and human wonderer. The author reveals a complicated person bound up in the struggles and celebrations of church, higher education, art history, and self. Sr. Rose chronicles her evolution as an artist, educator, and revolutionary mystic with uncommon insight and extensive knowledge of the subject located in both the religious and secular. This book is a magisterial contribution to the series and deserves wide circulation. Miguel de Unamuno, in his Tragic Sense of Life, closes the work with these words from the heart: "May God deny you peace, but grant you glory". Sr. Rose has issued, in vivid colors, a tribute to Corita that corresponds to Unamuno's sentiment!
Rev. Scott Young, President and Programmer, Culture Connection

Corita Kent's art and life were prisms, refracting and concentrating the speed-of-light forces shaping U.S. culture and religious life in the mid-20th century. Now is an excellent time to recall the beauty-and the cost-of standing in the midst of the Spirit's movement as Corita did. Sister Rose Pacatte is the perfect person remind us.
Beth Murphy, OP, Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois

Corita Kent's art offers the sacred hidden in the ordinary. Rose Pacatte's compelling and balanced account of this significant modern artist's immersion into religious and public life reveals Corita as the sacred and ordinary woman she was. Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart invites readers to view Corita's spirit-filled art with enriched understanding. Expect surprises.
Nan Deane Cano, IHM

Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart recalls a post-Vatican II "Catholic spring" withered by a tragic episcopal repression. The fallout: the dismantling of a respected Los Angeles women's religious congregation and the departure of Sister Corita Kent-a mystic who happened to be an artist. Corita's innovative serigraph art squeezed popular culture, social justice, and Gospel spirituality into graphics that still delight, disturb and inspire. Yet her personal journey-tinged with loneliness, doubt, and hinted-at regrets- resounds with "what ifs" and "if onlies" spawned by this collision of law and freedom.
Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF, Writer/ Producer/ Documentary Filmmaker, NewGroup Media, South Bend, Indiana

Pacatte probes with great delicacy and respect for the mind, heart, and spirit of one of the most intriguing artists and creative thinkers of the 20th century. Drawing upon the insights of those who knew Corita well, the author provides an intimate look into a woman whose spiritual journey led her directly into the heart of Mystery. Reading her life makes me want to follow Corita's counsel to her college art students and carry a small paper frame/viewfinder wherever I go as a reminder always to look upon the world from a variety of perspectives and never discard the belief that "possibility is a constant."
Annmarie Sanders, IHM, Director of Communications for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)

Q & A with Sr. Rose Pacatte, author of

Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart

What is the take away from Corita Kent’s life?

Her art, her soul. Her life. Her journey. These may have led her out of the Church, but why? This is what this biography explores. Frankly, I think she was too tired to deal with the nonsense and the pressure. She taught for thirty years but it was always an effort for her – she was really an artist. When you go against yourself for that long a time, even if you think it is God’s will, and don’t deal with your issues in some way, and you cannot sleep night after night, month after month, year after year, then comes the fog of Vatican II and the unfairness of a person like Cardinal McIntyre who had all the power -- if you cannot breathe, you walk away because you need to preserve yourself. And you know that God loves, sees and knows all.

Corita Kent is not unlike Simone Weil or Charles Peguy. They were Catholic in the best way they knew how and the Church rather does claim them.

What is the most compelling aspect of her life?

It’s not just one thing. Her vision, her strength and ability to dwell in the disorientation of her times for so long and then to journey to a place of transition to a healthier way of being and still share her gift of art. She always embraced love, social justice, creativity, beauty and the bringing together of faith and life. She surrendered to the mystery of God. As an art educator she distinguished clearly between art and the reality of what it represented.

You wrote the life of Martin Sheen in 2015 for the People of God Series and interviewed him, family members and friends for the book. Corita died in 1986. Whom did you interview and did you get the sense that you “knew” Corita when you completed the book?

I was able to interview Helen Kelley, the former president of Immaculate Heart College, several other former members of the Immaculate Heart Sisters and former students – some were both - as you will read in the book. It’s interesting because no one could really say they were friends with her in the way that sisters in a religious community can be – even if they worked or traveled with her. Yet, she was always present to the sisters and her students and participated in the life of her community – even the minutiae of daily life like serving at table. She was an observant religious. A former student, and an Emmy Award winning writer, Patt Shea, told me that every time she stopped by the art studio in the 1960s that Corita now headed, the nun was impatient at being interrupted and not so welcoming as previously.

When she left the community, she disconnected with many of her sister friends and later re-engaged with some of them. She remained closest to her married sister Mary Catherine always, but not so much with her sister Ruth who was a member of the IHM Sisters that stayed after Cardinal McIntyre, for all intent and purpose, disbanded the religious congregation. Corita left her art and the proceeds from her art to the lay Immaculate Heart Community that was founded in 1970. Corita loved the community very much.

Corita was close to the artist Mickey Myers, a former student, as you will see in the book. Mickey’s letters to Corita are in the archive at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard and they reflect the trust, familiarity, and respect that exist between close friends. Corita was capable of friendship but she was very selective about whom she chose to let enter her inner circle.

So to answer your question, as a biographer I don't feel as close to Corita as I feel toward Martin Sheen. His sister, Carmen Estevez, for example, was very open and generous about Martin and their family during the writing process and after. Different personalities and access to the subject of a book make a big difference, I think. Perhaps this is the distinction between writing a biography of a living person and the distance that exists with someone who has died. I can say this; while it may not be universally true, everyone I interviewed about Corita admires her and loves her still. I am definitely a fan.

This is a book about an artist, yet there are no reproductions in it. What is the best resource for materials on Corita?

The Corita Art Center http://corita.org contains an archive and is a great central source for Corita’s art, books, posters and videos. The bibliography in my book, however, offers more titles than the center does at this time. The interview she did for the UCLA Oral History archive is online and well worth the listen. http://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz0008z9kb&title=Kent,%20Corita

Is Corita Kent still relevant?

Absolutely. Her pop art serigraphs remain fresh and prophetic forty years later; her watercolors reflect gentleness and beauty. Her hands-on educational techniques and approach to art education continue to inspire teachers. She continues to inspire artists and teachers. Her rainbow on the Boston Gas Tank along they city’s Southeast Expressway appears in many films and television shows about Boston, for example the 2005 film “Fever Pitch” with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.

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