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Sister Marie Pierre's Story


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       Sr. Marie Pierre Semler, M.M.

                                            1901 - 1993     

       Sr. Marie Pierre was born Bertha Josephine Semler, March 23, 1901 to Lena Baum and

       Anthony Semler from Chili, NY.  She was baptized on April 7, 1901 at St. Mary’s of the

       Assumption Church in Scottsville, NY. She attended district # 3 school in Chili, NY K-8

       She lived on Brook Road in Chili, New York   



Sr. Marie Pierre moved in with a family on Wooden Street in Rochester, NY, and cared for two sisters during their illness with the flue during the epidemic.  At that time (1917-1920), she attended classes at Mechanics Institute, presently Rochester Institute of Technology.  The night classes that she attended were in composition and technique.  This was her only “formal” training.

Sr. Pierre entered the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic in Ossining, New York in 1925 at the age of 24 and took the name, Sr. Marie Pierre Semler.  Upon entering the Maryknoll Sisters her desire was to travel to China to care for the Chinese babies.  A routine physical determined that she had a heart murmur, and it was decided she could not endure the rigors of mission life. Mother Mary Joseph, the foundress of the Maryknoll Sisters, being aware of Sr. Pierre’s early artistic efforts, placed her in charge of the art department at the convent, working on illustrations for the Field Afar magazine, presently the Maryknoll Magazine.

Sr. Marie Pierre began her oil paintings and pencil drawings early in the 1930’s and continued through that decade.  In 1941, a broken wrist prohibited her from painting, so she attended a summer class at Maryknoll given by a Russian Artist and his wife to learn sculpting clay.  She realized she could accomplish this with her left hand and molded her first piece which was named Lord of Life.  She then made a mold of the piece and cast it in stone.  The stone was a formula that she developed and used throughout the next several years. Thus began the decades of stone sculpture.  During this same period of time she began wood carvings. The woods used were a variety of wood found on the Maryknoll grounds, and also exotic wood sent to her from the mission countries by her Maryknoll Sisters

Walking the grounds of Maryknoll brought Sr. Pierre to her next phase of artistry.  While walking the grounds, she became even more aware of the gifts of Gods creations. She could see the wonder in the trees and wood in their natural settings and thus began the “woodland sculpture” phase of her work.  Accompanied often by a Maryknoll  Sister, Sr. Pierre would walk the property and bring into her studio special pieces of wood that touched her heart.  Most often she would only clean them and find a message in the wood.  These would be the most  “contemporary” of her art pieces.  During all the phases of her work, Sr. Marie Pierre continually wrote descriptions, meditations, and poetry to accompany her pieces.  As time passed, and she grew less able to create art work, she spent a lot of her time perfecting the writings and poetry.

These 68 years spent as a Maryknoll Sister were the culmination of a lifetime of creative abilities.  She was a very humble person, and did not want her name mentioned, only “A Maryknoll Sister.”  She created 1,197 pieces of artwork, and is still touching people with her message.  She died on October 18, 1993, at the age of 92.




                                                                                      HEARING GOD’S CALL


              Often we do not know where the Lord will send us in “mission”.  Little did we know 11 years ago that we would become the “caretakers” of Sr. Marie Pierre’s collection of art work.  We know that the hand of God is in our work because we continually hear and see the impact that this work has on individuals that visit our exhibits.  How this work touches the hearts and minds of the people that view it is immeasurable.

During our exhibits, we have a journal available for visitors to relay their thoughts about the work.

  The following experience touched our hearts very deeply.  A gentleman came to our exhibit only to please his wife, and entered with extreme apprehension.  After viewing only a few pieces, tears began to flow.  About two hours later, he came to us and said that he had never been so moved before and felt the Spirit of God. He had lost his daughter 18 years earlier in a plane crash, and blamed God for taking her from him.  He was so moved by the art works, he went home that night, and picked up his Bible for the first time in that 18 years, and now attends Mass regularly.  As a matter of fact recently, at one of our talks at a local church, he stood up and told the parishioners that he guaranteed them “you will never feel the same after viewing this work.”

              Sr. Pierre passed away in October of 1993, and we began to show her work in 1994.After hearing about her work, one of our landscape customers asked us if we would consider showing some pieces in her home.  She would invite a few friends, we would talk about Maryknoll, and Sr. Pierre, have refreshments, and have time to pray and meditate with the pieces.  Word soon traveled, and we had more private exhibits.  These small, private exhibits soon turned into larger exhibits in local parishes.  This was a good way to introduce Sr. Pierre’s work, and talk about Maryknoll in our community in upstate New York.  We began to make draperies to cover walls where necessary and developed a system for hanging them that would work in most places.  Using these as a back drop, we then made pedestals to hold the art work.  We now have the ability to carry with us everything necessary to “construct” the “exhibition space.”

              As more visitors saw the work, they wanted something to buy to take the “experience” home with them.  We received permission from Maryknoll to begin making reproductions of the oil paintings and drawings.  At the same time we began to check the viability of the 128 molds that Sr. Pierre had left. Through reading her very detailed and extensive notes and diaries, we learned a great deal about the process of the stone reproductions.  After receiving permission, with some reservations, and much prayer we began to reproduce the stone pieces.  David and I truly believe that Sr. Marie Pierre keeps us on the right track, and continues to teach us her techniques. Recently, we have taken classes to learn more about the mold making process, as well as the care and management of a collection such as this.

              About every two years, we have an exhibit at the Sisters Center in Ossining.  This is an invaluable experience for us, as we learn of how the Sisters worked with Sr. Pierre, and often waited years to see a piece of work finished. 

              After several years of showing the work at local parishes, we were invited to have our first Gallery exhibit in the Borgea Gallery at the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  This came to be because of a Sister of St. Joseph that came to one of our exhibits, and was so touched by the work.

              In the fall of 2004, we had an exhibit in the Spellman Room at the Maryknoll Society.  Attendance was excellent, and we have been asked to return in the future.  We have recently made a contact with the gallery at the College of New Rochelle for an exhibit there. Most likely this would take place in 2006 or 2007.  We will be submitting a proposal this spring to the college gallery.

              We are excited to have scheduled an exhibit at the Marian Library at the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio.  The work will be on display there from November 2005 through the end of January, 2006. 

              God continues to bless us with stories of the many ways this work has touched the hearts of visitors.  In February of this year, during an exhibit at the Sister’s Center, A chaplin from a local prison visited the exhibit.  He was very touched by the work and discussed options available for the prisoners to view the work.  I told him that we could let the Sisters know that a “group of men” would be coming to the exhibit.  Fr. Lemmert said" Make sure you tell them that the men will all be dressed alike.”  After Father viewed a video he decided that he would like to show them the video of past exhibits.  A few weeks later, we received a letter from Father saying how the men were all very touched by the work. He wrote: “I am extremely grateful that you have undertaken the mission of preserving her art for future generations.”

              Currently we are speaking at parishes in the Rochester area to share the story of Sr. Marie Pierre and her legacy with the Maryknoll Sisters.

            We  have joined the National Association of Museums to learn more about preservation, storage, and transportation of the collection.  This will be a valuable source for connections throughout the country.

           We are proud to say that two original pieces of Sr. Marie Pierre's were exhibited at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in August of 2008.. Her artwork represented the United States in an exhibit from artists around the world.

              We are grateful for the opportunity to continue the journey that Sr. Marie Pierre began so many years ago.  Fifty exhibits and more than 35,000 people have viewed these works.  We are truly hearing God’s call to continue this work, as well as to promote the Maryknoll Sisters wherever and whenever we can.









                               SR. MARIE PIERRE SEMLER, M.M.




              BORN          MARCH 23, 1901  IN CHILI CENTER, UPSTATE  NEW YORK.


              DIED           OCTOBER 18, 1993 AT THE MARYKNOLL SISTERS  CENTER.





                                          PENCIL DRAWINGS, WATER COLORS, CRAYON                                                                             DRAWINGS.


              1917              DRAWING OF SR. LAURENTINA SEMLER, SSJ., SISTER OF

                                          SR. MARIE PIERRE


                                          ATTENDED NIGHT COURSES IN COMPOSITION AND

                                          ILLUSTRATION AT MECHANICS INSTITUTE, NOW THE

                                          ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, IN ROCHESTER

                                          NEW YORK.


              1925              ENTERED THE MARYKNOLL SISTERS OF ST. DOMINIC IN

                                          OSSINING, NEW YORK - APRIL 30, 1925.

                                          WORKED ON ILLUSTRATIONS FOR" THE FIELD AFAR" NOW

                                           MARYKNOLL MAGAZINE.



                                           A REQUEST FROM MOTHER MARY JOSEPH ROGERS.


                                          RESPONDED TO A REQUEST FROM FR. WALSH TO SKETCH

                                          A STATUE TO BE NAMED OUR LADY OF MARYKNOLL



                                          COMPLETED   OIL PAINTINGS OF OUR LADY AND MANY

                                          PENCIL DRAWINGS.


                                          CREATED AN ASSORTMENT OF MEDALS FOR VARIOUS USES.

                                          CREATED MANY WOOD CARVINGS.


                                          IN CLAY MODELING AT MARYKNOLL AND FOUND SHE COULD

                                          MODEL CLAY WITH LEFT HAND.  FIRST CLAY PIECE MODELED,

                                          THEN CAST IN STONE  -  LORD OF LIFE.



                                          CONTINUED IN CLAY AND CAST STONE



                                          DEVELOPED NEW ART FORM IN "WOODLAND SCULPTURE"