Juliann Dietrich conveys her love for art and faith through a drawing of the Blessed Lady and Joseph looking adoringly upon the newborn Christ Child. 
Juliann Dietrich conveys her love for art and faith through a drawing of the Blessed Lady and Joseph looking adoringly upon the newborn Christ Child. 

Story by Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Angelina Ramos and Juliann Dietrich have Christmas on their minds even though it’s six months away. And with good reason.

Ramos, who just completed the seventh grade in Pope John Paul II Regional School, Willingboro, and Dietrich, who just finished the fifth grade in St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, recently learned that they were two of 24 winners named in the 2018-2019 National Christmas Artwork Contest sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Missionary Childhood Association.

Both students’ artwork, which depict colorful yet prayerful scenes of the Holy Family, will be on display during the 2019 Advent and Christmas seasons in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington.

Father Peter James R. Alindogan, diocesan director of missions and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch, noted that every year, the MCA National Office, which is located in New York, sponsors a Christmas Artwork Contest for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Catholic schools, parish religious education programs and home school programs in which they are invited to share their artistic talents to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ Birth.

Father Alindogan acknowledged that this was the first time two students from the Diocese were named national winners out of the thousands of submissions. He commended the students’ teachers for their willingness to continually make students aware of their missionary obligation and duty.

“What our students did is also a further reflection of the ministry exhibited by our missionaries, who regularly visit them in school and have talked with them about children helping children through the Holy Childhood Association,” said Father Alindogan. “It is my hope that our two winning entries this year will inspire our students in the Diocese and produce more winning entries in the future for the sake of and in the name of our universal mission to spread the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The history of the MCA contest dates back to 1916, when the MCA produced the first Catholic Christmas seals in America to raise awareness of and support for the evangelizing work of the Church in the missions. MCA used children’s artwork on these seals since 1933. In 2005, MCA introduced Christmas cards featuring the winning artwork in its annual contest. In all, 24 national winners are selected with one grand prize winner from grades four through eight featured as the national director’s Christmas card.

Ramos and Dietrich said they are looking forward to Dec. 6, when they will visit the Shrine for the first time. There, they will attend Mass and a luncheon with the other contest winners and receive a plaque honoring their artistic achievements. In addition, all winning artwork will be available as shareable digital greetings beginning the first week of Advent.

“I felt proud that my artwork was picked as one of the winners,” said Ramos, whose drawing depicts the Flight into Egypt from Matthew’s Gospel and shows a night scene in which the Blessed Lady, who is holding the Infant, is mounted on a donkey, and Joseph, who is on foot, guiding the donkey. An outline of the town of Bethlehem can be seen in the background.

“Christmas is not only about presents; it’s about Jesus coming to earth to save us from sin,” Ramos said when expressing the message she had hope to convey through her drawing.

Using pastel colors, Dietrich displayed her love for art through her drawing of the Blessed Lady and Joseph looking adoringly upon the newborn Christ Child.

“I hope my artwork shows how beautiful the Holy Family is,” said Dietrich, who shared that her passion for art is something she and her sister have learned at home. Her mother is an art teacher.

Educators from the Pope John Paul II Regional and St. Leo the Great School communities spoke with pride about each student’s winning entry and how their schools strive to teach the children about missions.

“As a school with many immigrant families, it is important for our students to recognize the needs of others in our world; that is why we always try to support the works of the Missionary Childhood Association,” said Catherine Zagola, principal of Pope John Paul II Regional School.

“This was the first time we have participated in this contest so we are especially proud of Angelina’s accomplishment. Her Nativity scene was simple, yet reflected the true meaning of Christmas,” Zagola said.

Laurie Miller, art teacher in St. Leo the Great School, spoke highly of Dietrich, explaining how “all of her heart came out … onto that paper.”

Neil Begley, St. Leo the Great School principal, said it was an honor to have one of its students recognized. “We also wanted to create an understanding of the missions of our students and the importance of spreading our faith,” Begley said.