Teen’s artistic talent benefits parish

Lizzie Miller’s paintings of Mary, Holy Family are gift to community

APPLETON — People of all ages have talents to share. Sometimes all it takes for them to share those talents with their faith community is for someone to reach out and ask. That was the case for Lizzie Miller.

Miller, who is a junior at St. Francis Xavier High School in Appleton, has volunteered with St. Mary’s ROCKs (Raising Our Catholic Kids) group since its inception. She is joined by her mom and dad, Tricia and Dave Miller, and four sisters: Audrey, 21, Emma, 19, Cate, 15, and Sophie, 9.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Lizzie Miller. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

“When Catholic Central School closed, we wanted to make sure we remained a vibrant parish community that was welcoming for young families,” explained Lizzie’s mom. “So, we decided to start this group that has kid-friendly and family-oriented activities.” The group sponsors events year-round, including Lenten and Advent presentations and various holiday activities.

St. Mary parishioner, Anne Higgins, who helped establish the ROCKs group, knew that Miller has a talent in art and has reached out to her several times in the past few years, asking her to share her art with the parish.

“Mrs. Higgins asked me to do banners first,” recalled Miller. “There was an Advent banner my freshman year that was a picture of the Holy Family — a Nativity scene. I did one my sophomore year when we were celebrating the feast day of our church, St. Mary of the Seven Dolors. So, I did a painting of St. Mary and the Seven Sorrows.” Plans are to permanently display that picture in the parish chapel.

This past Advent, Miller was asked by Higgins to paint a series of pictures, one for each week of Advent. “Mrs. Higgins explained the theme to me, ‘A Baby Changes Everything.’ The pictures were going to be a progression of Mary throughout the stages of Jesus developing inside of her and then finally the birth,” said Miller.

“We asked Lizzie to illustrate Mary at various stages of the Nativity story,” said Higgins. “As a result, we have four paintings; the first being when Mary initially realized she would be the mother of our Lord, and the last being a picture of the Holy Family. The four paintings were displayed in St. Mary’s Marian Way (a gathering space in the parish center) during the Advent season. We are so proud of what Lizzie did.”

“It was a very reflective thing for me,” said Miller. “As I was painting them, I was trying to imagine what feeling Mary might have been having and incorporating that into the picture. It was like putting yourself in her shoes. It was a different experience doing these pictures because it’s a lot more intimate than the Nativity scene.”

While the ROCKs group coordinated a number of things for Advent, said Higgins, “the highlight definitely involved making the most of the talents of the Miller family.”

During one Mass each Sunday of Advent, the group had a dramatization of characters anticipating the birth of Jesus, namely Mary, Elizabeth and Joseph.

“Mary, portrayed by Cate Miller, was at every Mass and offered the reflection on the first and fourth Sundays of Advent,” said Higgins. The second Sunday of Advent featured Elizabeth (portrayed by Tricia Miller) and Mary. Week three included Joseph, portrayed by Gabe Walker, a high school senior. “The reaction from our congregation to these efforts was so very positive,” added Higgins.

St. Francis Xavier High School requires service hours for students, and Miller has no problem meeting her requirements. In addition to volunteering at St. Mary with ROCKs, she is also a minister of the Word, fills in as a server at Mass when needed, and she is the student representative on the parish pastoral council. She’s been involved in Christmas Stars and the Northeastern Wisconsin Passion Play, held annually at St. Francis Xavier High School, with her family.

While Miller has a natural talent in art, she hasn’t had an art class since she was at St. Joseph Middle School.

“I got into art in middle school and have been doodling and drawing ever since,” said Miller, who uses mainly pencils for sketches. Art will always be a part of her life, but she has another path in mind when she goes to college. “I’m not going to stop drawing, but I want to pursue a career in the medical area. Biology in general really interests me. I want to do something to improve the lives of others.”

Currently, Miller is preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation. “I hope this time will help me make a habit of personally living out of my faith instead of just relying on my parents to keep me going to church,” she said.

Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Lizzie Miller

Parish: St. Mary, Appleton

Age: 17

Favorite saint: Maria Goretti

Words to live by: “Love until your heart overflows.”