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‘Mary and Borders’: An Online Gallery of Artistic, Reflective, Spiritual Works

By Maureen Schlangen

A new online Marian Library exhibit curated by students at two Marianist universities is challenging its visitors to see a timeless and often controversial topic — borderlands — through social, spiritual, historical and artistic lenses. 

The online exhibit, a creative outgrowth of the pandemic-related shift to remote learning, draws from two sources: a coronavirus-canceled Marian Library exhibit called Refuge: Borderlands and the Blessed Virgin, featuring holy cards, art and other objects from the Marian Library collections, and a unit on the U.S.-Mexico border in the religious studies course Latina/Latino Religious Experiences, taught by Latinx theologian Neomi DeAnda, associate professor of religious studies.

Using objects chosen for the Refuge exhibit as inspiration, students undertook their own exploration of the Virgin Mary's presence in physical and conceptual border spaces. The result: Mary and Borders, a compilation of narratives, videos, images, games, interactive prayers and multimedia works by students at the University of Dayton and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Highlights include blogs, a crossword puzzle, games, an educational and devotional digital rosary, computer desktop wallpaper and an original song.

“Devotion to Mary has been present in border spaces throughout history,” DeAnda says. “In her own lifetime, Mary fled with her family to Egypt to escape the Massacre of the Innocents. Today, migrants often carry Marian statues and rosaries with them in their perilous journey across the Mexico-U.S. border.”

In the Mary and Borders exhibit, supported in part by the Association of Marianist Universities, students looked for Mary’s presence in boundary spaces — both literal and conceptual. 

“While some of the images challenge traditional notions about Marian devotional spaces, they remind us that we can deepen our understanding of Mary — and cultures and communities — by encountering her at unexpected intersections,” DeAnda says.

Jillian Ewalt, an associate professor and librarian for visual resources in the Marian Library and curator of the Refuge exhibit, introduced the classes to the library’s collections.

“The Marian Library exists to make the person of Mary better known, loved and served, but also to activate our collections in order to promote dialogue, critical reflection and understanding — and that’s what the students did with this project.” 

Sarah Uhlig, a junior English and theology major and a member of the Marianist Leadership Program at St. Mary’s University, worked in a small group of students from both universities to create a virtual rosary, complete with information about Marianist ideals and the state of the border.

“I needed to understand what was happening at the borders and how that connects with theology,” Uhlig said. “Learning about different cultures and religious practices and how immigrants will strip away their culture just to fit in America is heartbreaking.”

Anthony Hernandez, a graduate student at the University of Dayton who assisted DeAnda with editing and production of the exhibit, said the students’ work was both impressive and evocative. 

“I was enthralled by the dedication and heartfelt sincerity of each of the students with regard to the importance of spreading awareness about the challenges faced by immigrants on a daily basis and how such challenges are intimately connected to the many sorrows of Mary. I have gained a new perspective on the figure of Mary and on the struggles, joys, sorrows and triumphs of those who migrate to the U.S.”

Mark Zeitzmann, DeAnda’s graduate assistant in the spring 2020 and a master’s student in theology, also contributed to the project.

Mary and Borders will be online through May 2025, after which components of it will be archived in eCommons, UD’s open-access institutional repository.

The exhibit is the second partnership between the Marian Library and the Latina/Latino Religious Experiences course. The first resulted in Mary APParitions, a mobile app for an interactive exhibit called Mary of the Americas.

Other comments from students

Isabel Zavala, a junior human rights and Spanish major and Latinx and Latin American studies minor at the University of Dayton, said the project gave her the opportunity to express her culture and educate others. “Being a Mexican American female student on a predominately white campus has been something hard to adjust to,” she said. “My culture is rarely represented on campus, and to have a course that encompasses that had a tremendous impact on me. … My culture is something I represent and carry with me every day. I refuse to assimilate to the environment I am in. I do not want to lose myself. … This project let me tell a little bit about my family and where I come from while educating others on what is happening in our own country.”

Matthew Spangler, a junior biochemistry major at the University of Dayton, investigated the “zero-tolerance” policy exercised at the U.S.-Mexico border: “It allowed me to see how the United States has made many attempts to discourage families from seeking asylum. One main strategy was separating families in order to break the will of individuals from continuing their asylum claims. This project has influenced me to be an advocate against the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and to fulfill my civic duty by voting in upcoming elections.”

Michelle Falcon, a senior education major and ministerial assistant at St. Mary’s University, said that coming from a Mexican American family, she has a special connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I have also been blessed with traveling and being able to visit different states across the country and to bring home crosses and crucifixes from these different areas. For my final project, I decided to take some of my crosses from my cross wall and to tell the story about how I came about them. … I focused on the details of the crisis and comparing them to each other, showing how even the smallest of detail gave us an insight on that area. … This course helped me to appreciate my heritage and culture so much more.” 

— Maureen Schlangen is an e-scholarship and communications manager in the University Libraries.

The image displayed is a detail of Virgen Bandana by Tom Kiefer from the El Sueño Americano Project.

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