Recently, I read an interesting article about a speed-skating nun.
When she was young, Sister Catherine Holum was destined to be a world-class athlete.
Her mum had been an Olympic gold medallist.
She’d trained three Olympic squads.
Young Catherine had been skating competitively since she was seven.
She’s been competing internationally since she was thirteen.
She became the US national champion.
She became the Junior World Champion.
She broke world records.
She trained really hard, five hours a day.
At age sixteen she competed in the Olympics in Japan.
But she contracted exercise-induced asthma.
She couldn’t even train without massive quantities of drugs, much less compete at an Olympic level.
So at 17 she retired.
One day, Catherine had a vision at Fatima in Portugal.
At the spot where three little girls had seen The Virgin Mary.
As she stood there, Catherine felt peace and joy and bliss come rushing through her.
God spoke to her, and she knew with absolute clarity that one day she would devote her life to being a nun.
But meanwhile, Catherine returned to Chicago.
She went to the Chicago Institute of Art and studied photography for four years.
Of course, she had a deeply based faith, and firm religious beliefs.
Like the sanctity of life.
She felt so strongly that she would go and pray outside abortion clinics.
Pray for the terminated lives, for the pregnant women, for the doctors.
She wouldn’t protest, she would just kneel on the pavement and pray.
The journalist who was interviewing Catherine said this must have made her deeply unpopular, knowing the liberal views of art schools.
Catherine’s reply made me feel proud.
She said “Oh no, I didn’t get any hostility because, honestly, in art school people are very accepting of other people’s views.”
I love that.
It explains so much about art school and the sort of people who go there.
In ordinary daily life and conventional institutions, everyone is trying to fit in.
To be part of the mass.
But some people are more interested in what makes people different than in what makes them the same.
These people are seen as rebels and rejects, eccentrics.
These people don’t do well in the standard academic atmosphere.
Where everyone has to fit in, and outsiders are ostracised.
These outsiders, the rebels and rejects, tend to end up at art school.
Where everyone isn’t interested in being the same.
Where people are more interested in what makes other people different.
What makes them interesting.
So at art school, Catherine Holum wasn’t picked on for kneeling on the pavement and praying.
People found it interesting that she’d do that.
Obviously most of them didn’t agree with her, but that was okay.
The interesting thing was having the guts to kneel on a crowded pavement in a hostile environment for what she believed in.
In a gentle way, without hurting anyone else.
At art school it doesn’t matter whether you agree with someone.
What matters is, are they interesting.
What are they doing that’s different from everyone else, and why?
What can you learn from them that’s useful?
Everyone isn’t trying to be part of a large group of like-minded people.
This isn’t the home counties or a conventional academic institution or the Daily Mail,
This is the place where differences are enjoyed, celebrated.
Where difference is good.
And that made me proud of going to art school.