Christmas art competition brings joy to students after challenging year

News | Christmas art competition brings joy to students after challenging year

Posted 24 November 2021 by Catholic Education in News

After a year marked by disruption and isolation, Catholic school students in the Diocese of Wollongong have put their artistic talents to good use, bringing some of the magic of Christmas to life for their communities.

Students, parents and staff from Catholic primary schools across the Diocese of Wollongong joined together on Wednesday 24 November for the virtual exhibition launch of the 2021 Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong (CEDoW) Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition.

This year’s diverse range of artworks, including collage, origami and clay sculpture, demonstrates both a depth of originality and reflective thinking from the talented Year 5 and 6 students, who, with the support of their dedicated teachers - produced outstanding pieces of art during the remote learning period.  

View our top 39 students' artworks and hear their descriptions of their pieces in our CEDoW 2021 Christmas Story Art Virtual Gallery here

John Carolan, a Year 5 student at St Pius X Catholic Parish Primary School, Unanderra, was one of 80 budding student artists who took part in this year’s competition. John was the recipient of the Bishop’s Choice Award, and said working on his art during lockdown was an opportunity to make sense of what was happening in the world around him. 

“Working during the pandemic encouraged me to connect my artwork with those who are suffering from this pandemic. It reminded me to value God’s gifts that we sometimes forget, like health and freedom. Each brush stroke was like a little step on the road to Christmas” - John Carolan, St Pius X, Unanderra

Now in its 16th year, the Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition is an initiative of the Catholic Education Office in Wollongong and Sydney Catholic Schools, and aims to showcase student’s artistic and creative ability to explore the deeper meaning of the Christmas story.

Rather than disappoint students by cancelling this much loved competition—usually held at the Wollongong Art Gallery—the event was reimagined to help keep the spirit of Christmas alive and bring some much needed joy to the end of a challenging school year. 

This year, students were invited to submit a photo of their artwork, along with a reflection of their understanding and interpretation of their chosen scripture verse. 

Director of Schools, Diocese of Wollongong, Peter Hill, opened the exhibition, applauding the budding artists for the commitment and creativity that went into each artwork, especially under such difficult circumstances, and thanked all involved for their encouragement and support.

“I acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances of preparing artworks during remote learning and the additional challenges for both students, teachers and families,” said Mr Hill. “I sincerely congratulate every student who has entered, and importantly thank the schools for the diversity of opportunities they provide to nurture the creative flair and expressive talents of their students."

"Art provides a unique opportunity for the artist to enhance their worldly experiences, to appeal to our religious imagination and interpret the complex aspects of our lives" - Peter Hill, Director of Schools

Jo Kenny, Head of Service, Catholic Life, Education and Mission team, said the Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition is an exciting opportunity for students to engage and express their faith. 

“With so many events lost to us during the pandemic we are grateful this event was able to go ahead and showcase the incredible work of these talented students who capture the mystery and joy of the Christmas story in so many different and unique ways,” said Mrs Kenny. 


Congratulations to the following students who received the four major awards: 


John Carolan - St Pius X, Unanderra

John’s artwork titled 'The Path to Jesus' was inspired by the scripture ‘The Journey to Bethlehem’ (Luke 2:3-5) and the great journey that we take in our lives.

“There are ups and downs on this path,” said John. “The path is hard sometimes, just like Mary’s journey through the hills on a donkey’s back. Some side trails look easier, but they can lead us onto the wrong track; they include the paths of selfishness and pride, thinking that you can do whatever you want to do. Through Mary we can always find the path back to Jesus.” 

Bishop of Wollongong, Most Rev Brian Mascord was moved by John‘s ability to communicate such a powerful message to our community through his art.  

“John talks about the call to be faithful to the journey that is always heading towards the Lord,” said Bishop Brian. Recognising that this is also our journey of faith, a journey that has its highs and lows and there are sometimes ways that can seem like shortcuts to get to where we want to go but are often deceiving and are not really the way.” 

Low Res Christmas Art Competition winners 6



The Director’s Choice Award was awarded to St Francis Catholic College, Edmondson Park Year 6 student, Nerayo Santos, for his artwork titled ‘Mary’s Fiat’. 

Nerayo’s drawing of Mary on her knees with a dove resting above her head captures the Holy Spirit with Mary as she hears the news from Angel Gabriel.

“This scripture is the perfect example of  Mary’s faith and trust in God and His will for her, so too, she teaches and challenges me to do the same,” said Neyaro. “Even when life is difficult, I can give my life over to God like Mary.”

CEDoW Director of Schools, Peter Hill, was drawn to the vibrant colour and beauty of the painting which appeals to the imagination and the notion of confidently saying yes to the unknown.       

God invites us to be with him, to follow him, to create with him, but the decision is always up to us. This painting reminds me of the importance of our own yes to God’s voice in our lives and how we are asked to bring Christ into the world at Christmas. Certainly not the same way Mary did but in our own way, using our own words, our own gifts and talents. Just as Nerayo has,” - Peter Hill, CEDoW Director of Schools. 

Low Res Christmas Art Competition winners 3



CatholicCare Wollongong ‘Star of Hope Award’ was awarded to Hannah Shortland, a Year 6 student at Holy Family, Ingleburn. Hannah’s artwork titled ‘Guiding Star’ illustrates how precious new life is, and the gifts of joy and hope we received through the birth of Jesus.  

“I was inspired by a Christmas card with an image of the Magi by Justice May, but instead of painting a very dark night sky, I used warm colours because they make us feel happy and hopeful,” said Hannah. “Red, orange and yellow symbolise love and joy, which are the gifts Jesus brought us.”

CatholicCare Wollongong Director, Michael Austin, praised Hannah for reminding us of the importance of being a beacon of hope and strength to others in our lives. 

“The reason I chose this artwork is because the composition and sentiment evoke a strong sense of humility, warmth, gratitude, friendship, love and of course hope,” – Michael Austin, CatholicCare Wollongong, Director.  

Low Res Christmas Art Competition winners 1



This year’s ‘Packing Room Prize' was awarded to Year 6 student, Priyashna Maharaj, from St Thomas More, Ruse.

Inspired by Canadian oil painter, Dimitri Sirenko, Priyashna’s artwork titled ‘Every Woman’ captures Mary at a young age, truly trusting and accepting God into her life. 

“I have tried to recreate young Mary’s wholesomeness,” wrote Priyashna. “Mary’s youth and humility is a symbol for every girl, to have quiet confidence in themselves, that they are capable of anything in life.” 

Low Res Christmas Art Competition winners 4

finalist awards 

The artworks of 18 talented students were selected to represent the Diocese of Wollongong in the upcoming Sydney Christmas Story Art Competition hosted by the Archdiocese of Sydney. Grand prize winners will be announced at 12:30pm on Sunday 5 December.

View each students’ artwork up close and hear an audio recording of the student describing their artwork in our CHRISTMAS STORY ART EXHIBITION 2021 VIRTUAL GALLERY.


winnermedalCaitlin Abela

St Joseph’s, Bulli

winnermedalLeila Van Akker

St Joseph’s, Bulli

winnermedalDhyllen Scales

St John’s, Dapto

winnermedalNerayo Santos

St Francis, Edmondson Park

winnermedalHannah Shortland

Holy Family, Ingleburn

winnermedalFaith Minuto

St Claire’s, Narellan Vale

winnermedalNicholas Augustine

St Thomas More, Ruse

winnermedalPriyashna Maharaj

St Thomas More, Ruse

winnermedal Audrey Mackey

St Michael’s, Thirroul


winnermedalNoah Faavae

St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral

winnermedalZoe Van Moolenbroek

St John’s, Dapto

winnermedalWilliam Jukes           

Holy Cross, Helensburgh 

winnermedalDigby Griffiths

Ss Peter & Paul, Kiama

winnermedal Emily King

 St Michael’s, Mittagong

winnermedalEvelyn Poppleton

St Claire’s, Narellan Vale

winnermedalSara Puse

St Claire’s, Narellan Vale

winnermedal John Carolan 

St Pius X, Unanderra

winnermedalOlivia Staples

St Pius X, Unanderra


Seven deserving students were recipients of a ‘Highly Commended’ award for their artistic achievement and understanding of the Christmas Scripture. Congratulations to the following students:  


Claire Dadd

St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral

Elsie White

St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral

Matilda Jukes

Holy Cross, Helensburgh

Rose Gregoriou

St Pius X, Unanderra


Sophie Malyn

St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral

Bella Lubrano

Stella Maris, Shellharbour

Molly Hertsch 

St Pius X, Unanderra

Click here to view the Official Opening of the Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition for 2021 

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