Thomas Carey, O.S.B.
Dolores Carey was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1912. Twenty years later she took the name Thomas when she made first profession of vows at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. As Sister Thomas, she brought modernism to religious art, especially favoring images of the Madonna and Child, and deploying vibrant colors, geometric forms, and a wide variety of materials.
In the early years of her career, many disliked her designs; as her friend Kristin Malloy, OSB, put it: “Sister Thomas was ahead of her time.” In 1954, the local bishop banned a simple crucifix of her design, deeming it too modern. He censored her work and sent her into “exile”, to teach in rural parochial high schools. During the same time, Sister Mariella Gable of Saint Benedict’s Monastery was also censured and exiled because she allowed the inclusion of Catcher in the Rye in a college reading list. It was not an easy time to be a woman of ideas in the Church, if any time ever was. Nonetheless, the Church was clearly positioned for change. Modern Catholicism examined Scripture as a set of human responses to God within a historical and cultural context, rather than a document to be read and understood literally. Resonate as it was with the new thinking to emerge from Vatican II, it was not long before S. Thomas’ work gained favor and her commissions grew.
Sister Thomas’ life spanned the American experience of modernity. She was at the forefront of re-envisioning not only the women religious figures she painted, but also re-envisioning the place of religious women artists. She died December 15, 1999. Her surviving colleagues recall that, infirm in the nursing home at age 87, she had help holding up her arm, to complete sketches of angels, to the end.
Carey, Thomas, et al. Sister Thomas Carey, O.S.B. : The Light Within. Saint Benedict's Monastery, 2003.
Larson, Scott. "Artistic, Teaching, Unconventional Nun Dies at 87." St.Cloud Times, Dec 18, 1999, p. 1B.