The Grace to Paint: Interview with Sr. Maresa, SND

Sister Maresa Lilley is one of our Notre Dame artists. Her oil paintings can be found on the walls of our ND Center, on the internet (more about that later), and even in Guido’s Italian Restaurant in nearby Chesterland, OH. Four of her paintings also hang (drum roll, please!) in the 2021 movie Spider-Man: No Way Home. (Yes, she saw the movie and spotted her 16″ X 20″ painting on the wall in one of the scenes. But she must see the movie again to try to spot the other three.) I recently stopped into Sister’s studio here to see what she’s been up to lately. As soon as I walked in, I was in awe of the paintings I saw—including three horses, a portrait of a young woman in black, Jesus, two young women collecting shells on a beach, and a vase of yellow tulips.

Sister Maresa working on a commissioned portrait of an actress for an upcoming movie about a fictional mystic. The drawing on the wall (top right) was done by her brother, Tom. It depicts Sister painting Jesus while Jesus, with paint brush in hand, is painting Sister!

For two hours, Sister Maresa answered my many questions. Here are some of the things she shared with me. Even as a little girl, Sister was interested in art. When she was quite young, her mother bought her a paint-by-number of three ballerinas. That was the beginning of her art career. By age 12 she was taking a course at the Cleveland Art Museum and falling in love with Degas’ images of ballerinas. Back in those days, Sister worked mostly in chalk, but in 1980 (she was now a nun), someone gave her a set of oil paints. For a long time Sister was afraid to open them because, “I knew how expensive they were.” But, fortunately for the world, she eventually did uncap them and began to paint. She has worked primarily in oils ever since. “Oils are so forgiving,” she explains. In 1990 she took an oil painting course at the Cleveland Institute of Art and “soaked in everything they could teach me.” She also credits her subscription to The Artist’s Magazine for continual inspiration in the areas of images and techniques.

“Parked at Port”

For years, Sister had to squeeze her art into her life as a full-time elementary teacher, a principal and administrator, and later as a novice director in the Philippines. But since her return back to the states in 2012, she has been painting full time.


I asked if she had favorite themes or subjects. She says she enjoys considerable freedom when it comes to what she paints. As expected, though, she leans toward religious art, describing her work as “traditional themes with a modern twist.” Many of her paintings are also commissioned pieces. People ask her to paint portraits of their loved ones, their pets, or something else they love—like barn swallows. Her works also include landscapes, flowers, children, couples, still life, Jesus, Mary and other saints.

“Mary, Daughter of Israel”

Sister Maresa started a blog, “Grace to Paint” in 2012, the same time I started mine! (Sister Susan Wolf was instrumental in encouraging both of us to do this!) Her blog features not only many of her paintings, but also her commentary on some of them. Sister is also on Etsy, and her shop is called “Paintgrace.” The past several years she’s sold over 400 paintings on Etsy alone. I checked 130 reviews on her shop. All were 5 star ratings! Amazing!

For her blog, just google: Grace to Paint blog

For her shop, just google: Etsy paintgrace

You can also access her shop on her blog. Go to the top of the page and click on “Art Store.”

You can enjoy her many paintings on her blog and even subscribe to it is you wish. On Etsy you’ll find all the information you need to purchase an original painting of hers. Many sell for only $65. She also sells prints of her works as notecards, 5 for only $10. All sales include free shipping. (You can’t beat that!)

“First Words”

Why does Sister Maresa paint? I think I found the answer on her blog. She writes: “The gifts all around us, whether it’s a lowly lemon or the candid eyes of a child, hold an inner grace… I try to translate into oil paint the joy and beauty of being in this world.”

Enough words. Let me conclude this reflection with a few more paintings by Sister Maresa:

“Sweet Delights”

“Son of Joseph and Mary” Sister tried to capture Jesus as a young man here…


“Chickadee and Berries”

“Spotlight” As you can see, Sister is still painting ballerinas…

And I couldn’t resist…

“Sunflower Sonata”

For reflection:

Did anything touch your heart in this reflection?

Do any of Sister’s paintings speak to you? If so, which one(s) and why?

Take a few minutes with one of the paintings you are drawn to… feast on it… how does it make you feel… what does it say to you?

PS: Sister Maresa has told me I can post her email address and phone number, if you would like to ask her questions about ordering her paintings: [email protected] / 440-226-9446

Sister Maresa said that in her art she leans toward “traditional themes with a modern twist.” She also said in her paintings, she tries to capture some of “the joy and beauty of being in this world.” In a way, her words can apply to today’s video. It is a traditional hymn “How Great Thou Art.” But here it is sung not by a large choir in a huge cathedral with organ accompaniment. Rather it is sung by a country a cappella group of five men, (called “Home Free”) outside amid God’s majestic mountains. I think the hymn certainly captures some of “the joy and beauty of being in this world.” (There’s a brief clip at the end of the video where the group tells a little about their music.)

Once again, I’m posting this reflection on Sunday, July 17th so my subscribers might receive it earlier in the week… And, as always, you are invited to write a comment below. Your comments enrich my blog!


  1. Debbie on July 17, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Beautiful version of How Great Thou Art! Thank you for sharing Sr’s art and her blog. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Carol D. on July 17, 2022 at 8:40 am

    Lovely work! Such a gift!

  3. Rita Rings on July 17, 2022 at 8:48 am

    When folks use their gifts, painting, singing, etc to praise God, it brings us together in true community. Thank you Sr Melanie for introducing me to these talented folks this morning. of course the Sunflowers painting spoke to me.
    “Look to God as a sunflower looks to the sun.” I believe that quote is from St. Julie Billiart.
    Peace to all today.

  4. Susan Slaninka on July 17, 2022 at 8:51 am

    What a wonderful way to start the day. I can’t wait to pass this on to many of my friends who are artists. I know they will be as inspired by her paintings as I am. I only wish my friend Annamae were still alive to receive this today. My hope is that she is painting in heaven.

  5. Theresa on July 17, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Too beautiful for words! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Mary James on July 17, 2022 at 9:13 am

    Really love “Mary,Daughter of Israel”. A strong but gentle woman. I’m going to have to see Spider-Man again. I’m looking forward to her new movie. Such talent is such a sweet unassuming and delightful person!
    And How Great Thou Art is one of my all time favorites. That group is quite good too. Thanks much,

  7. Mary P on July 17, 2022 at 10:03 am

    I love all of Sr. Maresa’s paintings, but am especially drawn to “Jack”. Back in December 2020, I snapped a picture of my 1 year old grandnephew, clad in his pajamas and reaching up to touch an ornament on the Christmas tree that stood near the fireplace. My grandnephew’s name is JACK! I sent that picture to several people Christmas Day, reminding them to be open to the wonders of Christmas through the eyes of a child. It almost seems like Sr. M used that photo as inspiration for her painting!

  8. Sister Josita on July 17, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Thanks so much Melannie, for sharing the exceptionally graced talent of S. Maresa. Her paintings are spellbinding! I don’t know her but can can feel her warmth and goodness in each work of art!..Thanks, too for sharing her blog .will definitely subscribe!
    God bless you and I hope you are enjoying a happy, restful summer!
    Sending thanks, love and prayers.

    • Ed Hodapp on July 17, 2022 at 3:17 pm

      How can I purchase a painting of sunflowers by Sister?

      • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 17, 2022 at 6:07 pm

        Ed, Go to Sister’s blog or visit her on Etsy. I gave the information in my blog above. I will let Sister Maresa know you asked. Sr. Melannie

  9. Barb on July 17, 2022 at 10:18 am

    That song was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. It is Sunday morning as I listen and so appropriate. Sister’s art is also so beautiful.

  10. Sister Kathleen, Watertown NY. on July 17, 2022 at 10:37 am

    Sr. Melanie, I love all sister’s paintings because they are so realistic. I especially like the young Jesus. I think that is what He must have looked like. Thank you for your blog. I look forward to it every week.

  11. Dolores Leffler on July 17, 2022 at 11:16 am

    Most beautiful rendition of How Great Thou Art!! Sister’s artwork beautiful! Thank you!

  12. Patt Germann on July 17, 2022 at 11:51 am

    So beautiful. I worked as an admin asst in a college art/art history dept for 15 years. Always so overwhelmed by the talents people have. One professor said “anyone can draw” but I told him “the idea is here (in my head) but it won’t come out to my hand.” What a blessing there are people for whom it WILL “come out their hand” and share it with the rest of us. We each have our own gifts – meant to share with the world. Thank you for sharing the beautiful work today.

  13. Cheryl on July 17, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Loved the video and EVERY one of Sr. Maresa’s paintings, but I really loved “Jack!” Thank you for sharing!

  14. Melanie L Ebert on July 17, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    Such talent and so uplifting! Adds such beauty to our world and peace to our day.
    Beautiful way to start this Sunday and the week Sr Melannie. So look forward to your blog and the gifts you share with us. Thank you!

  15. Maureen Spillane, SND on July 17, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    Melannie, I just loved your interview with Maresa. Her paintings have always been a favorite of mine. How Great Thou Art… awesome
    Thank you Melannie. You helped make my day more special.

  16. Karen on July 17, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    Sister’s paintings certainly reflect that beauty is everywhere around us … from the profound to the mundane. Thank you for the weekly inspiration!

  17. Shirley on July 17, 2022 at 2:39 pm

    Wow! Sister Melannie this was an awesome blog! All the paintings were great but my favorites were the baby at the Christmas tree, the bird and the sunflowers.
    The song was outstanding! Thanks for sharing! Wishing you a wonderful week!

  18. Anita Compagnone on July 17, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    Amazing work! So touched by all of the paintings. Don’t know which one I love the most! “Mary” was superb, “Jack” so heartwarming and Jesus’s face so tender. Sister Maresa is simply marvelous. Thanks for honoring her and her work Sister Melannie. You’re the best!

  19. Carolyn Jablonski on July 17, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Sr Melanie
    I was blessed to work and know and love Sr Maresa for years. Her artwork hangs proudly in my home. You captured her gift so well. I always enjoy your blog and the way you conclude it with music that speaks so well of the subject. Two gifted women—each in their own way!

  20. John Hopkins on July 18, 2022 at 7:52 am

    Good Monday morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    So much beauty to go around! The art, the song, your words! Whenever I see an artist with the talent of Sr. Maresa I liken it to watching a magician. I say, “How did they do that?!” And so, how does Sr. Maresa do that!?” So talented! Thank you for sharing her gift with us. My favorite is “Mary, daughter of Israel.” I could look at that for hours. But, yes, that “Sunflower Sonata” is indeed gorgeous! On to Etsy, now, to buy some cards!

  21. LJ on July 18, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    Loved the song, loved the column today, Sister Melanie. Especially loved “Mary, Daughter of Israel”. I was hoping there would be cards with that image on Sister Maresa’s Etsy page, but alas! Still, so enjoyed seeing her artistry! Thank you for sharing it!

  22. Helen Burdenski,SND on July 18, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    Beautiful paintings by a beautiful person. It is both a grace and an inspiration to share daily life with this very gifted person. Thanks, Sister Melannie, for introducing her to all the readers of your wonderful blog. Music video is stunningly beautiful.

  23. Christine liegey on July 21, 2022 at 7:11 am

    Please add new address to your email address. My email was changed from Juno account. Thank you.
    Sr. Chris

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 21, 2022 at 8:28 am

      I tried, Chris. Let me know if you receive this blog through your email account. Thank you! Melannie

  24. Arianna Wartmann on August 19, 2022 at 3:38 am

    Dear Sr. Melannie, my apologies for adding this note to the Comments page. Unfortunately I have not received your weekly newsletter since 17July 2022. I’m not sure what the reason for this is. Please could you check that my email address is still listed. Kind regards, Arianna
    Johannesburg, South Africa

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