Mosaic unveiled at Janesville school Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Apr. 21, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Msgr. Donn Heiar, pastor of St. John Vianney (SJV) Parish in Janesville, discusses a mosaic unveiled at St. John Vianney School on April 13. The mosaic was the result of nearly five months work by local artist Connie Bier and SJV students, staff, and parents. To view or purchase photos, go to (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

JANESVILLE -- “Hopefully it’ll be here as long as the school is here. We hope that not only will it inspire these kids, but it will inspire generations of kids to come,” said Artist-in-Residence Connie Bier.

The “it” in question was met with oohs and ahhs, applause, shouts of joy, and smiles when it was unveiled to the students and staff of St. John Vianney (SJV) School in Janesville, along with about a dozen guests.

“It” was a 50-inch by 90-inch mosaic, containing more than 13,500 pieces of ceramic tile and depicting, as SJV Pastor Msgr. Donn Heiar put it, “the life, death, and resurrection that we’re given with the Lord.”

The mosaic, unveiled on April 13, was the result of nearly a year of planning and five months of work.


Local artist Connie Bier was the artist-in-residence for the project.

Bier is a retired art teacher who worked for 35 years in the Milton School District.

Since her retirement, she’s worked on many mosaic projects in the Janesville-Milton-Fort Atkinson area as well as serving as an artist-in-residence at local schools.

The SVJ Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) became aware of Bier’s previous work at places such at St. Mary Church in Milton, the Milton Public Library, and elementary schools in Fort Atkinson.

During a program before the unveiling, Angela Huber from the PTO said the group made a “unanimous decision” to make the artist-in-residence program a priority for the school and invite Bier to share her talents.

Bier said the project began with meeting with the PTO and SJV Principal Judi Dillon to get ideas for the mosaic.

She followed this up with brainstorming with the students to get their ideas.

“Then I took all those sketches and drawings and the brainstorming list and came up with several composite drawings,” narrowing the ideas down, Bier said.

Next came what Bier called the “jumping through hoops” stage -- coming up with an idea for the mosaic and getting the words of approval from the parents, principal, and pastor.

“Each step along the way people had good ideas and suggestions and we came up with the final design and that was approved,” Bier said.

Making the mosaic come to life

The next step was projecting the approved image onto a cement board and drawing an outline of the mosaic on it.

The board was laid down flat and the first tiles were added.

Students in grades K through five learned how to make tiles, making one for the mosaic and a similar one to take home to their parents.

Some of these included doves, fish, or sheep.

Once these tiles were placed in the mosaic, the students could find them in the finished product and could easily identify their contribution.

The students in grades six through eight worked on more elaborate tiles to take home, and also helped put the mosaic together.

“The kids here are amazing, very respectful,” said Bier. “The parents have done a nice job raising these kids. They are great to work with.”

Parents and staff members also helped put the mosaic together.

“The whole staff just opened their arms to me and welcomed me in to do this project,” Bier added.

Her husband Gene, who is also retired, put in work on the project as well.

The finished touches included putting the three large parts together on a wooden board made by an SJV parent, covering the seams with tiles, along with grouting and touch-up work before the unveiling.

Working with SJV art teacher Jeanne Cullen to incorporate the mosaic as part of classes, Bier called the project “an opportunity for me to come in and work in a school atmosphere . . . [It was] a way for me to continue what I was doing back when I was an art teacher.”

Blessing the mosaic

Following the unveiling, Monsignor Heiar blessed the mosaic.

Before performing the rite, he called the whole project a prayer and said, “you’re praying all the way through” while putting it together.

He then asked students what the images on the mosaic meant.

A heart in the center represents the Sacred Heart of Jesus, along with a host and chalice, representing the Eucharist -- Christ as the bread of life.

Three crosses represent Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary and a sunrise is a sign of the Resurrection.

Two hands are God’s hands “reaching down from heaven right into our lives.”

“Every image on here,” said Monsignor Heiar, “you can look at time and time again, and you’ll see more and more what we’re called to learn, to pray, and to serve,” with those three words featured prominently on the mosaic.

With some assistance from the students, Monsignor Heiar blessed the mosaic with holy water.

As school was dismissed for the day and as parents were picking up their children, the students proudly showed them where their pieces were in the mosaic.

“Not only was this a great opportunity for our students to work with Connie and to understand the process of the mural, it was a way for them to visually share with our community what makes St. John Vianney unique,” said Huber.