Morning Star at St. Joe’s Shines for CASA Berks County

Posted on: February 16, 2024

Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel rises at the center of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. The Morning Star symbol appears some 350 times in the stenciling, stained glass and statuary of the Chapel, an icon of the bridges between the Lakota and Catholic traditions.

  • Mary is called the Morning Star because she preceded Christ and her “yes” opened the way to salvation.
  • The Easter Vigil liturgy refers to Christ himself as “the One Morning Star who never sets.”
  • For the Lakota, to walk in the light of the Morning Star is to walk a holy path.
  • Ancient mariners called the same star Stella Maris, Mary Star of the Sea, and prayed for her protection and guidance to navigate the vast and often treacherous waters.

At the highest place in the Chapel’s rose window, the most prominent rendering of the Morning Star shines brilliantly, leading the way.


Michelle Kissinger was lost. She stood in the doorway of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, S.D. She had wandered away from the group of conference goers, of which she was a part. She was lost – or perhaps summoned.

Her artist’s heart stirred, bathed in the gold and cobalt light of the Chapel’s windows. She grabbed the brochure describing these treasures from the nearby rack and entered the nave.

It was the rose window in the bell tower that most enthralled her. Its diamond shapes* emanating from a circular center told a story: Just as the sun, in the natural world, is the great billboard for God’s presence, so the Eucharist, in the supernatural world, is the billboard for Christ. Though she hadn’t heard that explanation, she felt the presence, and it stuck with her. Punctuating the radiant sun beneath it, the Morning Star glistened above.

She was in Chamberlain to give a talk about her art-based work to members of CORE (the Coalition on Residential Excellence). Having spent 10 years in out-of-home care while growing up, including seven as a student at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Penn., she had a passion for this group of people who all work in youth-serving organizations. In her session, she would present her experience using expressive arts to work through developmental problems with individuals and groups.


Back at home in Berks County, Penn., the Executive Director of CASA of Berks County, Nancy McCullar, was also feeling a little lost. Each of the past four Octobers, she had called together for training her group of some 60 volunteer court-appointed special advocates who work on behalf of children in forster care. The “stares from the chairs” style of the training had left her looking for a change. “As advocates, they work mostly on their own, not side-by-side. I wanted something that would inspire them through the camaraderie of each other.”

That’s when someone who knew Michelle’s current work mentioned her. A former CASA advocate, Michelle had jumped at the chance. Now the day had arrived to go over the design with Nancy, but Michelle’s initial enthusiasm felt dampened as she looked over her proposal. Heading out the door, she grabbed the Chapel window brochure. Just weeks after being lost in the Chapel, she was about to find her answer in the rose window.


“When I approach a project, I begin with the developmental situation to be addressed,” explains Michelle. In this case, it was bringing together a mixture of personalities who work separately to build bridges and create a sense of team. There is no cookie-cutter nature to this work, no repeat performance. “Form follows the function: First we determine developmental needs, then we scope out art-based activities that will support the necessary learning,” says Michelle.

Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel’s diamond-shaped rays set in a radial pattern held the answer. In a somewhat remarkable feat of geometric genius, Michelle deconstructed the rose-window-inspired design into six separate one-by-two-foot canvases. The 60 volunteers worked in groups of three or four to color their patterned canvases. Michelle then bolted together the separate canvases to create a stunning mural.


A post-survey reveals that the finished piece not only embodies the team spirit and new bridges that participants experienced that day, but that carries forward in the daily work of CASA of Berks County. “Collaborative art has tremendous power to build and reinforce organizational culture,” explains Michelle.

Nancy reports, “The training was by far a hit. Volunteers got to know each other and look forward to the next gathering. I am having a print of the mural made so that each participant has their own.”


“Don’t be afraid to get lost once in a while,” encourages Michelle. “You never know what you might find.” And the Morning Star shines over all.