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Sister Cecilia Tji, Featured in The Cathedral Connection

As a teenager in South Korea, Sister Cecilia Tji wanted to be a movie director. Gifted in music, writing, and art, she thought that would be the best way to turn her talents into a career. But in those days, there were no women directors in South Korea, and she was unsure what to do. A Catholic friend encouraged her to talk to a local priest, promising he would be able to help her, and keep her conversations private—and the would-be director's life took a very different turn.

As Sister Cecilia debated what path to follow to build her future, she chose to convert to Catholicism, a decision that her non-Christian parents did not support. When she announced she was going to study theology at Holy Spirit College, they asked her to leave. She went to college with a pillow, a blanket, and a tiny amount of money. She earned a full scholarship, and earned spending money by giving Korean lessons to German priests. "In hindsight," she mused, "it was God's special way of picking me up and making me strong."

She made the decision to enter religious life during her senior year of college, but was again faced with a decision. She visited many religious communities in South Korea, but didn't feel like she fit anywhere. She was too active, too avant-garde, too much of a tomboy, and, despite her plans for religious vocation, her parents continually tried to find her a husband. Her bishop recommended she come to the United States, which she did after graduating from college. She joined religious life and worked with inner city parishes in Philadelphia. She also ministered to Korean parishes in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Long Island while she was teaching university and high school.

Once in the United States, Sister Cecilia continued to pursue her education as well. She earned a BFA in Fine Arts and Painting from Kutztown University; an MFA in weaving and textiles from Marywood University; was a PhD candidate at Columbia University; and earned a PD in Spirituality from Fordham University.

"I am a seeker, a searcher," she said. "As an artist I must be philosopher, a psychologist, a sociologist, an anthropologist and a believer throughout my entire life. The search for knowledge not only of my craft but of myself, and of the world around is necessary to my growth and to the maturity of my art."

"Art education is a way to enrich the lives of our students," said Sister Cecilia. "It stimulates and encourages the creative side of their natures and enables them to see the beauty in their world." As the acting chair of Cathedral's art department and an accomplished artist herself, Sister Cecilia is fully immersed in many aspects of the creative world.

Sister Cecilia came to Cathedral in 1995 after teaching at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn. She teaches Fashion, Crafts, Basic Art, Studio One and Two, and Portfolio Art, where she encourages her students to look within themselves for inspiration.

"I ask my students to draw themselves, their joys, dreams, diseases, and their brokenness in life. The drawings of students helped me reach a deeper understanding of the powerful relationship between one's unconscious and emotional life," said Sister Cecilia. "I am most fulfilled in my role as a teacher and artist when I serve my students well, when as a team, we jointly participate."

She loves Cathedral because of the vibrant mix of energetic young teachers and veterans who share their experience, and the diversity among the student community. She says she can understand some of the trials immigrant students go through because she went through them herself, learning a new language and culture, and finding a place where she felt she fit in. One her happiest moments teaching here was learning that one of her art students earned a scholarship to the prestigious, and extremely selective, architecture program at The Pratt Institute.

Sister Cecilia lives and has her art studio in Brooklyn. There, she creates commissioned works, as well as her own paintings, textiles, sculptures and writings. She has 23 artworks hanging in 17 different churches, created the tapestry for the school chapel, and has numerous other artistic credits to her name. Her creative work and her teaching earned her recognition in Who's Who in American Teachers, and the Catholic Readers Digest named her one of the 100 most influential people in the Asian world.

Sister Cecilia said she draws from many aspects of her life when she begins to create a new piece.

"My art, as a sacramental art, explicitly focuses on revealing God's presence," she said. "My art, as a prophetic art, focuses on dismantling the reality of social injustice in humanity."

Reprinted with permission, Spring/Summer 2015 issue.