HORTONVILLE — A homily preached more than 10 years ago by Msgr. James Feeley, when he served as sacramental minister at SS. Peter and Paul Parish, had a profound effect on Connie Greany. “He gave a sermon on the ripple effect,” she recalled.
As a professional artist and an art teacher, Greany not only reflects on that message in her own life, but has passed it along to countless students through the years. “Every single thing that we do, everything we think about and everything we say affects everything else. That’s the ripple effect,” she said.
Greany, a Nebraska native, moved to Wisconsin with her husband, Jerry, in 2004. She became Catholic when she was a teenager. “We had neighbors in Lincoln who were Catholic. … Across the street from my high school was a Catholic grade school. A priest or a nun would always be out in front of the school when we caught buses to go home and so I got to know them and talk with them,” she recalled. “When I was 14, I made the decision that I wanted to be a Catholic.”
Art has been part of her life since she was 4 years old. “I first played in the clay and the mud out in the ditches when it rained and made stuff. But I didn’t have an art class until high school,” said Greany, whose primary art medium is clay. “I earned a degree in fine arts and education from Peru State College in Nebraska.”
Through the years, Greany taught art to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Since moving to Wisconsin, she’s been substitute teaching in the Hortonville, Neenah, Kaukauna and Appleton school districts.
“To give and not to count the cost,” a line from the St. Ignatius Prayer, inspired Greany to share her talent in a volunteer capacity. In 2006, she donated her time, materials and teaching expertise to create her first ceramic mural in Wisconsin with the religious education students at SS. Peter and Paul Parish.
This fall, a mural commemorating SS. Peter and Paul’s most recent confirmation class, was completed. “I designed the whole thing and worked with the kids,” said Greany. “I made slabs ahead of time so we could cut the letters and words out. I handed them each a piece of clay. They made and painted all the other tiles,” she said.
The biggest project at church to date is a set of three recently installed circular murals, each 3-feet in diameter, focusing on the essential mission of the parish: “Pray, Love, Serve.”
“They were all done at the same time with members of the parish,” Greany explained. “We did a parish event with a potluck. It was the start of the welcome back to the religious ed program in September. I designed it, made the ‘pray, love and serve’ words and cut out slabs and had people impress them. We had more than 100 families involved.”
Tiles ranged from family last names to images of fish, flowers and crosses, to words that represented the abbreviated mission statement, like adoration, gratitude, praise, thanksgiving, petition, remorse and intercession. Like every Legacy Mural that Greany creates, each of these had her initials, fish and the letters “AMDG” somewhere amidst the tiles. AMDG is the acronym for Ad majorem Dei gloriam, “For the greater glory of God.”
Commissioned murals by Greany can be found in schools, churches, homes and businesses throughout the United States. “When I do public school ones or business ones, they have my initials, fish and AMDG on each one of them, too,” she noted.
When Neenah High School was dealing with a bullying issue, Greany was called in to help. “They thought doing a mural might pull kids together. So, after three different things that came about with the ripple effect, I thought, ‘This is God telling me trying to use that as the theme.’”
Only God knows how many lives have been touched by the murals, said Greany, but she has a lot of interesting stories about them.
“I was in Neenah a couple years after I’d done that mural. I was going there to substitute and a kid came running down the hall — he was a kid with major learning disabilities. He came and hugged me and said, ‘I know where my tile is and I want to show you.’ It affected him a lot.”
While Greany’s family is certainly her legacy — she and her husband have three daughters and three grandchildren — these murals are as well. “When you make a tile, it leaves a legacy,” she said. “It’ll last forever and you can keep coming back and looking at it. Once it’s fired, it’s permanent.”