A gift that lives on

Holding her first winning entry, Jaylee poses in 2016 with a cutout of Pope Francis, her late father Jim, mother Tracey and sisters Delana (center) and Lennon.

Winning a nationwide Catholic art contest has helped Jaylee Duncan, 14, stay close to her late father, through memories of his art instruction and the contest’s link to a special string of rosary beads.

Jim Duncan, who had been her only drawing teacher, died a year and a half ago from cancer. When she was in fourth grade, he had advised her on a winning entry in the National Christmas Artwork Contest of the Missionary Childhood Association.  Jaylee entered the contest again this year, receiving another award.

She remembered her father as she drew the brilliantly hued oil pastel and charcoal image of the three wise men.

Jaylee’s winning entry of the three wise men

“My dad knew a lot about drawing. He was very good at it,” said Jaylee, who attends the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, Beaver County. “If I was ever struggling to get something onto paper, he would help me out. He taught me some tips. And he didn’t take lessons either.”

Jaylee, her mother, Tracey, and two younger sisters live in Aliquippa, where the family attends St. Titus Parish and the girls receive religious education at St. Francis Cabrini. Four years ago, her CCD class participated in the Missionary Childhood Association contest. Twenty-two winners have their entries displayed throughout Advent and Christmas in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The pictures also are shared with officials at the Vatican.

The artwork on two grand prize winners became Christmas cards for Father Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which oversees the Missionary Childhood Association. The Missionary Childhood Association – formerly the Holy Childhood Association – encourages Catholic children to be aware of the needs of children in mission dioceses worldwide, to pray for them and to support them spiritually and materially. Jaylee had collected coins in “mite boxes” for the Missionary Childhood Association to help children in need.

Her first winning entry- chosen from among more than 5,000 entries- was a drawing of a kindly shepherd tending sheep beneath the star of Bethlehem. The award came at a pivotal time. Shortly after the family traveled to Washington for the award ceremony, her father was diagnosed with cancer.

Father Small had spoken with the Duncans in Washington and someone sent word to him of the diagnosis. He immediately sent Jim Duncan a rosary that Pope Francis had blessed and given to him at a meeting in Rome.

“It was an intense moment to see a young family that was experiencing the way of a cross so early,” Father Small said.

When Tracey Duncan tried to speak about how much that blessed Rosary meant to her late husband and the family, she wept.

That kindness from Father Small is among the reasons the Duncans decided to enter the contest this year as a family activity during the COVID-19 quarantine. All three girls drew pictures.

Father Small was glad to see that Jaylee is still drawing and that he could help the family along a difficult path.

“Memories like these keep us warm, since the love we feel when we think of each other is exactly the same thing as being in God’s presence,” he said. “When we feel God’s love, we know that we are safe.”

Jaylee Duncan with her mom, Tracey