We asked author and international Catholic speaker Katie Prejean McGrady to tell us a little bit about her upcoming online series from Ave Maria Press called Ave Explores: Art and Architecture. Her descriptions paint a picture of a program offering a rich and enriching experience of one of Christianity’s greatest traditions—its artistic heritage.
What inspired the Ave Explores series? How did you come to be connected with the project?
Ave Explores began as a little “one off” project back in the Fall of 2018, taking a look at the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. We had people in the fields of youth and young adult ministry write articles, share videos, and give insight into what was taking place in Rome. We wanted anyone—whether involved in youth ministry or not—to appreciate the work being done. From there, we developed the idea of doing more series in a similar way: pick a topic, look at it from a variety of angles with experts, and help people learn and grow in their faith. I really think of it as a “deep dive” program, where we get to really plumb the depths of the things that faithful men and women find interesting, but may not have taken much time to really explore.
I got involved the way that a lot of wonderful things have happened in my life...kind of by accident. At the Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles in the spring of 2018, I had a conversation with some of the folks at Ave Maria Press, and we just started dreaming about different projects and things we could do to help the publisher create even more good content, not just in the book world, but for social media and on the Internet. That was kind of the spark, which led to the first series, and now here we are—launching our latest series on art and architecture.
For those who may not be familiar with Ave Explores, how would you describe the series?
Ave Explores is a project of Ave Maria Press that seeks to take a deep dive look at a variety of different topics that are relevant and interesting to people trying to live their faith in the every day. We want to explore things, together, and help people learn and grow in their faith.
This project began in the hopes of just creating good content—and then as we got further into the dreaming and planning, I learned more about the history of how Ave Maria Press was founded. Twenty-three years after Fr. Sorin founded the University of Notre Dame, he began producing a magazine honoring Our Lady, showcasing the best American Catholic writing, and focusing on living the faith well, especially in families. He then gave control of the publication to Sr. Angela Gilespie (a radical move to put a woman in charge for 1865) who grew the magazine into the most popular English-language Catholic magazine in the world. That eventually became the publisher Ave Maria Press, which we know today. I love that the press began as a ministry to help people explore and learn their faith, right from their homes, in an easy, digestible format—a magazine. And so in some way, I feel like the work of Ave Explores really taps into that history: creating good content, giving it to people for free in today’s “magazine” (the Internet) and helping them learn more about aspects of the faith.
What can a participant expect in terms of format, content, and time commitment? Are there any opportunities for interactions or discussions with other participants going through the series?
Ave Explores is as easy as they come in terms of format. When you sign up, you’ll get a weekly email for the run of the series (usually four weeks per series) that includes videos, articles, podcast episodes, and bonus content. Everything is of course then posted on social media, where people are often chatting in the comment boxes and sharing and posting things to their own personal pages. As of now we don’t do any interactive pieces with Ave Explores, but that’s a hope we have for the future, to do live chats with our podcast guests, create community forums for people to engage with material more hands-on. For now, it’s just a simple email, and you get the content delivered right to you and are able to engage with it as you’d like.
This installment of Ave Explores focuses on art and architecture. There are so many beautiful examples of both in the Christian tradition! How did you decide on what to include in the series? Do you have any favorites?
This was definitely the hardest of the series to curate, specifically because there is so much to choose from. We mostly decided to go with things that people would recognize, but also have asked all the contributors to share their favorite pieces of art and churches throughout the world.
I’m of course partial to the ones we all know: St. Peter’s, the Shrine in D.C., Notre Dame. But I do share a bit about how my favorite places to worship, with my favorite art, are just the churches in my home diocese. And I think that’s something we teach in this series: the greats are great, of course, but art and beauty and the grandeur of architecture isn’t just in the places we know by name, but also in the places where we find ourselves most at home.
What’s the one thing you most hope a participant takes away from their experience of exploring Christian art and architecture with you?
My big hope is that folks who read these pieces and listen to the interviews and watch the videos begin to not only appreciate the great body of work within the life of the Church, but also begin to see how essential “beautiful things” are in our faith. We can of course worship the Lord in a bare room, with no images, statues, spires, or steeples, and that would be fine. But we often get to worship in places filled with grandeur, beauty, power, and might—and this helps elevate our minds, and thus our worship. We explore that a lot. We have a piece from J.D. Childs about how the Catholic worldview is shaped greatly by our understanding of beauty. We have an interview with an artist from Disney Animation Studios who shares how her faith influences the character work she gets to do. We have a video with an iconographer, talking about his craft and his prayer, an article from a Deacon whose apostolate in Rome while at the North American College was giving the Scavi tour under St. Peter’s Basilica, and he’s a former architect student, so he shares how his vocation thrived while doing that work. All of it is so varied, and so in-depth, and I think people will really enjoy it and learn a lot.
To learn more about Ave Explores Art and Architecture, click the button below!