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One Heart: O’Dowd Community Creates Art To Inspire Hope

The Sacred Heart is a traditional Catholic image, used for centuries to represent the heart of Christ. This year, the O’Dowd community interpreted and imagined that heart in new ways.

Last summer, O’Dowd’s annual Emerging Leaders Retreat was virtual for the first time. As a result, plans for student leaders to make a legacy artwork for their fellow classmates got scuffled.

“A few members of our staff worked together to get a piece of art started, instead,” says Marguerite Green, who has served O’Dowd for 18 years. She is our Assistant Director of Student Activities, mother to Antoniya ’00 and David ’03, and spouse of long-time O’Dowd history teacher, Tony Green. “We talked about the different feelings we were experiencing as individuals and as a community and an image developed.”

“We were responding to the challenging moment we found ourselves in last summer,” shares Mark Lederer, O’Dowd’s Director of Health and Wellness who has been at O’Dowd for nearly two decades. “We wanted to create something to inspire our emerging leaders.”What materialized was a prototype of a heart wrapped in thorns, blazing with fire, with roots spreading into the earth below, and a cross at the heart’s crown.

Javier Sanchez, who has taught art at O’Dowd for 27 years and is known affectionately on campus simply as Jav, designed the prototype. Over the fall, he worked with Gary “Mace” Mason, O’Dowd’s Dean of Students, to translate that prototype into a mosaic, measuring four feet by eight feet, made from colored glass and iridescent black tiles.

Javier Sanchez and Gary Mason

Student leaders from the Associated Student Body, Campus Ministry Team, Solidarity in Action, Peer Tutors, Eco Leaders, Health and Wellness, and Dragon Ambassadors contributed to the mosaic by reflecting on each of O’Dowd’s charisms. Their words were etched in glass surrounding each of our school commitments.

“There is a meaning to mosaic, which I think is beautiful,” says Mark. “Mosaic is a physical representation of our community. And that’s the virtue of this piece. Each person who looks at it can have their own interpretation.”

Starr Gray ’98, Director of Student Activities at O’Dowd for 14 years, thinks so, too. “The Catholic faith is multilayered. For me, the flames of the heart represent the passionate ways our country was protesting this summer and fall. It tells me that a fierce love will bring us together.”

Michael Downs, O’Dowd’s Director of Justice and Kinship, adds, “The Sacred Heart is a traditional Catholic image, but it’s something our diverse community, from many different backgrounds, can reflect on together. A broken heart is an open heart. It’s a wound where grace comes through. Our hearts have been broken by the pandemic, by racial injustice, by economic hardship, by the wildfires. This image is piercing. It’s vulnerable. But it opens us up.”

“For me, the heart is about our students, who are the center of our community,” says Marguerite, “and the thorns represent the challenges they go through. But the roots show the strength and depth of our faith, and our connection to Oakland.”

As our school community concludes our Cor Unum Campaign for the O’Dowd Center, this sacred heart brings special relevance. Cor Unum, drawn from our school’s motto, means One Heart. “The heart appears thousands of times in the Bible,” Michael shares. “The heart is where we find our soul force, our conscience. This artwork will be displayed on campus, speaking to our students daily, empowering them to be agents of hope and healing and justice.”


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