The Art and Architecture of Juan Diego Catholic Schools

“Beauty is the pathway to God.” 

-Dr. Galey Colosimo

When stepping onto the campus of Juan Diego Catholic High School one thing becomes clear, this place isn’t like other schools. Whether it’s the inspired architecture and intentional design, the immaculate landscape, or numerous works of art, one immediately feels connected to the sacred–and that’s exactly what administrators were hoping for when the school opened its doors in 1999. 

This page is dedicated to all of the sacred spaces on campus and the people who made them possible.

Walking By Faith

The labyrinth comprises a major part of the Mother Teresa Prayer Garden. In addition to being used as gathering space in many important school traditions and retreats, the labyrinth is also used in religion classes. Regardless of their faith background, many students come to walk the labyrinth in mindful prayer. 

Former JD theology teacher, Christine Petrone, began the tradition years ago when she and her husband marked the labyrinth out in chalk to teach students about the significance of labyrinths. They reproduced the geometrically perfect Chartres Labyrinth so that students could experience the spiritual quest it symbolized, firsthand. 

A couple years later bricks were laid out in the exact dimensions of the famous labyrinth in France, making it a permanent fixture of the campus and inviting students and passers-by, alike, to walk its meandering, meditative path. 

A Faithful Artist

The school commissioned artist Betty Sabo for the Mother Teresa sculpture. A prolific landscape painter and sculptor, Betty was considered a matron of the arts in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Known by virtually everyone in that community, it was Betty who arranged for the art museum to be opened after hours when Dr. Colosimo and Monsignor Fitzgerald first visited in 1997.

They met Betty the same day they met Sonny Rivera, the sculptor who would create some of the most significant pieces for the school, including the Juan Diego that stands proudly at the south end of the campus. Betty was a tour de force. A single mother of five children who somehow made time to paint, and decided to try her hand at sculpting when she was 60, after the oils began making her ill. She was generous and extremely devout. 

Her favorite works were the bronze St. Francis that stands outside the Basilica in Santa Fe, and her final piece, the Mother Teresa, which was completed with the help of Betty’s dear friend Sonny Rivera when her fight with Alzheimer’s started to prove too much.

Betty passed away in 2016 at the age of 87.

The Mother Teresa Prayer Garden: Honoring Saints Among Us

Despite being tucked away in the southwest corner of the inner circle, just across from the bell tower, the Mother Teresa Prayer Garden is a popular spot on campus. At lunch, students sun themselves in the adirondack chairs left out during the warmer months and gather atop the labyrinth for retreats, mass, and other important events.

North of the labyrinth, a beautiful bronze sculpture of Mother Teresa looks out on innumerable pink roses, salvia, and daylilies that comprise the garden.

Commissioned prior to her sainthood, the statue of Mother Teresa was to be a tribute to the school’s patron, Sam Skaggs, who had a personal devotion to her because of her generosity to the poor. By commissioning the statue the school honors both Mother Teresa for her heroic virtue, and also Sam Skaggs, for his patronage.

The Juan Diego Grotto: The Heart of the School

A bird’s eye view of the campus makes it clear: the Juan Diego grotto is at the very center of it all, and rightfully so since Juan Diego is our patron saint. 

In fact, this spiritual and artistic place of prominence was one of the few sacred spaces that was planned long before builders broke ground on the Skaggs Catholic Center. It portrays the famous apparition of the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the Chichimec peasant, Juan Diego, whose birth name, Cuauhtlatoatzin, means “talking eagle.”

The school received its name after a months-long search in which the answer was revealed to Monsignor Fitzgerald one night in a flash of insight.

This was fitting, as Juan Diego’s qualities as a man reflect those the school wishes to impart on its students. Grace, humility, strength, enlightenment, dedication, virtue and a boundless love for God and neighbor.

The Art and Artist

Commissioned before the school opened, the bronze statues were completed by Michael Florin Dente, a Portland-based artist who was introduced to administrators through Fr. Nathan Zodrow, the former abbot of Mount Angel Abbey, and who would later teach art at Juan Diego.

Dente’s beautiful bronze installation of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is surrounded by a stunning garden of roses. The garden, which consists of different varieties of roses, has been cultivated and cared for over the past 23 years by Sister Celine, who has served as a fourth grade teacher at St. John’s for just as long.

The Story of Juan Diego

Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in Tepeyac, in the outskirts of Mexico City in 1531. She asked him to tell the Bishop to build a shrine there in her name, where she would pour out her grace upon all those who invoked her. Disbelieving, the Bishop demanded a sign that the apparition had indeed occurred. When Our Lady appeared once more to Juan Diego she instructed him to climb the hill and gather the roses blooming there. 

Though it was winter, Juan Diego obeyed and found beautiful roses in full bloom. He gathered the flowers and returned to Our Lady who carefully arranged them in his cloak, or tilma, and sent him on his way to the Bishop. When Juan Diego opened his tilma, the flowers, Castilian roses, which were native to the Bishop’s home in Spain, fell to the ground and revealed a striking image impressed in the cloth: that of the Blessed Mother.