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Sister Wendy Beckett, Renowned Art Commentator and Catholic Nun, Receives Award from Saint John’s U

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January 20, 2006

Saint John’s University presented the 13th annual Colman J. Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society to internationally renowned art commentator, Sister Wendy Beckett, to honor her service to society as art historian, author and television host.

The ceremoney took place at a private reception on Monday, Jan. 30, at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to coincide with the opening of the international exhibition tour of The Saint John’s Bible at the museum. The exhibit is on display from Feb. 2 to May 1.

Sister Wendy first entered the public arena in 1991, appearing on BBC television in a documentary on the National Gallery, London. Popular acclaim brought her back to television as the commentator for “Sister Wendy’s Odyssey,” six short films about art treasures around Great Britain, and “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour,” a series on European art. In 1997, “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting” expanded her enthusiastic following to include American audiences. Her most recent series, “Sister Wendy’s American Collection,” (2001), takes viewers on a tour of six American museums.

She has also written extensively for art magazines and is the author of more than 15 books, including “Contemporary Women Artists and Art and the Sacred.”

Although her television series made Sister Wendy a celebrity, she never sought the limelight. Born in South Africa in 1930, she felt a vocation for religious life as a child and joined the Sisters of Notre Dame at 16. She graduated from Oxford with highest honors in 1953. She subsequently lived and taught in South Africa and served for a time as a Reverend Mother. She returned to England in 1970 to live a fully contemplative life in a hermitage on the grounds of the Carmelite monastery at Quidenham, Norfolk. Since that time, she has left the hermitage only when necessary to make her television shows. She continues to live there, spending the majority of each day in prayer, silence and solitude.

The Colman Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society recognizes the contributions that the Rev. Barry, a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey and former president of SJU, made during his life of scholarship and teaching.  The author of several books, the Rev. Barry began his teaching career at Saint John’s in 1952.  He died in 1994.

The Colman Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society is given annually to those who believe and demonstrate that service to others, in its expansion of human understanding and extension of social justice, comprises the best in human achievement. 

Donald Jackson, Sister Wendy Beckett, Br. Dietrich Reinhart and Abbot John Klassen examine the Book of Psalms from the Saint John's Bible on display in London, England.