Bridging the gap: Catholic students’ artwork displayed at temple visitor center


An elementary school art project in West Los Angeles became the spark that not only ignited stronger ties between members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Catholics, but also introduced several hundred children, parents and teachers to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center.

Greg Gollaher, director of the visitors’ center, and his wife, Jill Gollaher, proposed the “Teachings of Jesus Christ Through the Eyes of a Child” art project to Sister Stella Maria, the principal at St. Paul the Apostle School in Westwood. Enthusiastically embracing the activity, art teachers at the school enlisted about 240 students in grades three to six. Additionally, about 40 Primary children in the Los Angeles California Stake participated. During the month-long project, as students received religious instruction in the stories and parables of Jesus’ life, they applied their learning in art class. Popular themes emerged: Jesus walking on water, the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the Savior’s baptism and the story of Jesus changing water to wine.

The students’ artwork — in mediums from pastels and crayons to pencil, water colors and dark markers depicting various scenes from the Savior’s life — was displayed for a month on the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center multipurpose room walls and seen by thousands of visitors as well as family members and school faculty. Occasionally, parents and family members of the Catholic faith would visit the art display after attending Sunday mass.

“It was a deep, spiritual experience for the children and the faculty,” said Sister Stella Maria. “It helped them see different aspects of the life of Christ. They all want to do it again.”

Sister Gollaher said, “We saw this as a way to demonstrate the love and respect shared by our religions in Jesus Christ. We also wanted to hold an interfaith event that would bring the Catholic community into the visitors’ center so we could build bridges of understanding where they would feel comfortable with us. Because we are neighbors of the school, we wanted to be friends.”

One of the highlights came when Sister Gollaher invited Sister Stella Maria to view the art display. Delighted with the breadth and creativity of the children’s work, she invited the entire faculty to see the exhibit. That opened the door to class-by-class visits by the students and their teachers to the center beginning with the third grade. When the fourth graders arrived, some wandered into the room with the 11-foot marble Christus statue, sparking an impromptu discussion with the sister missionaries about what members of the Church believe about Jesus Christ. After listening to the presentation narrative, more questions arose. Soon, word spread to the fifth and sixth grade classes about the Christus room, which became a favorite destination during the visitors’ center tour.

Satisfied that the project was a “win-win,” Sister Gollaher and Sister Stella Maria, who is retiring as principal after 47 years to become an art teacher at the school, have already agreed to do another joint project next year.

St. Paul the Apostle Church’s original building was completed in 1932, and three years later, the school facilities were reopened. The school is staffed by the Daughters of Mary and Joseph. The property is just north of the Los Angeles Temple, which opened in 1956, and the Visitors’ Center, which was remodeled in 2010.