TORONTO (CCN) — Sister Helen Kluke doesn’t believe in mistakes, only in new creations.
Pottery has taught Kluke to accept life’s surprises and see how God can work through these new creations.
For 30 years, Kluke has been running a pottery studio as her chosen ministry as a Sister of St. Joseph. When she took her first pottery class in 1985, she never thought it would turn into a new ministry.
At her Toronto-based Studio on the Hill she teaches pottery classes to children, adults and adults with special needs.
“My purpose to be here is not just to make money,” said Kluke. “It’s partly the creative, but it’s also to bring light and peace to people.”
What Kluke loves about the art of pottery is that it brings people peace. It allows people to escape the busyness of their lives and just have fun with their art.
“I teach them basic techniques and if it doesn’t turn out the way they think, it’s OK. They are new creations,” she said. “I’ve had pieces that collapse during presentations . . . but I’m OK with that now and some of them have become my favourite pieces.”
Over the years she has had pots collapse on the pottery wheel that are repurposed as decorative candle holders. Broken figurines are turned into unique sculptures.
Like all Sisters of St. Joseph, she serves where there is the greatest need. This led her to many different ministries throughout her 53 years in service — including as a home economics teacher at St. Joseph Morrow Park High School and then director of food services at the Morrow Park convent.
“They were both very controlled types of ministries,” said Kluke. “I had to be very exacting when I was teaching home ec . . . and in food services, it was diet control. Having worked with clay, it has opened me up to be free, to be relaxed and to allow others to do the same.”
During a year off from ministry work, Kluke decided to take a few courses here and there, including a course in pottery. She said there is something about the creative process and working with her hands that was very calming. When combined with prayer, Kluke said it becomes a whole new way to encounter God.
“It was the turning point for me in terms of eventually making another decision about ministry and where I would like to serve,” said Kluke. “It opened up a freedom within me that I had never experienced before.”
She pursued a Studio Arts degree at Emmanuel College in Boston. In 1988, she graduated and came back to Toronto where she began to teach pottery classes at Providence Healthcare. After a few years, she opened her own studio so she could offer classes to children and adults. But, in 1996, her landlord sold the property and she was forced to move out. Eventually, she found a nice storefront in East York.
“I started as an incorporated business,” said Kluke. “Down the road, if anything ever happened to me, the business is under my name then the community won’t be able to continue my work . . . so I started to work on that change and then, I became part of Fontbonne Ministries.”
In 2000, the Sisters of St. Joseph created Fontbonne Ministries to restructure their new mission to work in communities of greatest need. Through this non-profit organization, Kluke was again able to expand her art program. She was able to take on more clients, especially underprivileged families and community members that would not normally be able to afford an art program.
“It’s wonderful having support. Financially, if I was on my own, I wouldn’t be able to continue,” said Kluke. “A number of people in this particular area are very poor and marginalized. I have children who are in families who are very stressed. We can talk about it and (money is) not a roadblock.”
Not only can Fontbonne subsidize costs for her clients, it allows her to do more outside of her studio, where Kluke also facilitates retreats and conferences. The potter and the clay is one of the most familiar analogies in the Bible and she uses these to have people reflect on their art work and how it represents the idea of being shaped and transformed in the hands of God.
When Kluke is not teaching classes or facilitating retreats, she is working on her own art. Her studio also acts as a storefront that showcases this work.
“I’m 72, but I work a full schedule . . . and I’m totally committed to this,” said Kluke. “As long as I have the help and the energy and the enthusiasm to do this, I’m here to do it. I love being with the people.”