“The enterprise is exploration into God,” is a line from Christopher Fry’s poem, A Sleep of Prisoners that Sister Karlyn Cauley, SDS, inscribed on one of her paintings. The quote epitomizes her life and her ministries. Sr. Karlyn (formerly Sr. Peter Claver) saw God in the Salvatorian Sisters who taught her at Divine Savior High School, and decided to enter the congregation upon graduation in 1961. She recalls, “I loved the Sisters for their competence, great sense of humor and joy, and the time they devoted to us in our many extracurricular activities.” She felt her time spent in formation helped to confirm her heart’s readiness for religious life within the Salvatorian community.
After graduating with history and theology degrees from Marquette University, Sr. Karlyn taught second grade at parish schools in Bloomer and Dickeyville, Wis. Then, with encouragement from Sr. Helene Patefield, SDS, she changed paths and earned a master’s degree in art from the University of Wisconsin. Sr. Karlyn returned to Divine Savior Holy Angels High School (DSHA) to teach art, which left her only Sunday afternoons to work on her own art pieces. Later, her years spent in vocation ministry allowed for a more flexible schedule and more time to exhibit her works.
An empty wing at DSHA was converted into an art studio where Sr. Karlyn creates and displays her works of art. She says the art studio serves as a place of peace where many people find refuge and support. “Visitors often open up about different struggles in their lives, and they know that our Sisters will pray for them and their families.” Sr. Karlyn reflects on how Jesus might live today: “I think He might be an artist, communicating to us about the Kingdom not only through stories but also through illustrations.” She says that He would be among the people proclaiming the good news at various art fairs.
Many of Sr. Karlyn’s paintings portray people of diverse ethnicities, representing the Salvatorian mission to make God’s goodness known in all places to all peoples. Sr. Karlyn has been to Columbia, South America, where she interacted with local sisters in formation. She lives in an ethnically diverse neighborhood and has formed an ecumenical relationship with Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee. As she celebrates 50 years of vowed religious life, Sr. Karlyn continues to seek and discover God in a wide array of creative endeavors, again, inspired by the poet Fry, “The human heart can go the length of God.”