“The Way of the Family” – the Reflective Way of the Cross – in the light of the Family

Artist Sue Orchison lives in country NSW just outside Canberra. Her interest in iconography spans more than 15 years. Sue can be found most days busy painting religious images in her country studio. She has work exhibited in cathedrals, churches, schools and private homes across Australia. Here she takes us behind her most recent commission, a group of 10 images depicting the Way of the Cross mounted in a chapel of the newly restored Old Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul, Goulburn.

How did the project happen?

It was shortly before COVID-19 took hold of the world that Fr Tony Percy asked me to undertake the Way of the Cross. It was a time of suffering, uncertainty, isolation, vulnerability and fear for everyone. As I wrote the Way, I reflected on the suffering of the world and families in light of the suffering passion of Christ and His Mother. I reflected on life; times of joy, celebration and intimacy and the times of Jesus’ life with family, Joseph and Mary and grandparents and friends together raising the child. Just as our family and friends joined in raising our precious children. Those times are tinged with suffering, anxiety, sickness, heartbreak, and the challenges life brings. As Mary supported Jesus through his passion she supports us as Mother, protector, intercessor.

What do the images represent?

For me the images represent the Way of the Cross – from the Passover to the Resurrection – the victory over sin and death, our salvation, the sovereignty of Christ. The images give the viewer space to sit and to be, to soak in  Christ’s suffering – suffering  He endured so we could live with Him forever.

Why did you choose these 10 images?

The first image I chose was the traditional icon of Christ the Bridegroom – Ecce Homo – Behold the Man. When I saw this image 15 years ago my heart broke. This is our Bridegroom, this is how much He loves us, to lay down His life for us. This is the image under the Cross at Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre.

I started by painting the Washing of the Feet – the Jewish ceremony of the Mikvah, where the bride is washed from top to toe before the wedding. Christ washes His bride symbolically by washing His Apostles’ feet.

Christ is servant; He humbles himself and asks us to do the same.

He gave His bride His flask, His Body and Blood, to sustain her as she waits for her groom to come back for her, to take her to the place He has prepared for her, the Father’s House. He sent the Holy Spirit to sustain her while she waited.

The images are about relationship, about those with whom we walk the way.

The Apostles were Jesus’ friends, his best supporters. He was also their teacher but that wasn’t enough to give them the courage to stand by Him and His Mother. Only John stayed and walked the path of love.

Simon the Cyrene, a passerby who was forcefully persuaded to support Jesus on his journey, received Jesus’ grateful glance.

Veronica, a woman who saw the situation, wanted to help and was not afraid to put herself into a painful situation, received Jesus’ grateful glance.

The women of Jerusalem – were they just sitting and having a chat as the crucifixion procession passed by? Did they know Jesus? Did they recognise Him from the stories of healings He had done? What caused them to weep? The brutality of the authorities, the injustice?

Who was the man nailing Jesus to the Cross?

Who was Longinus the Centurian who pierced Jesus’ side to make sure He was dead, and who then recognised and proclaimed Jesus as the Son of Man, God’s Son?

Mary the Mother walked every step with Him as we parents do with our children.

The Angel was in the Garden of Gethsemane supporting Jesus during this horrific journey and rolled away the stone to celebrate his victorious resurrection.

The Journey of painting “The Way of the Family” – the Reflective Way of the Cross – in the light of the Family

In his homily at the world meeting of families in 2022 Pope Francis said, “We must never forget that the family is the first place where we learn to love. The family is the place of encounter, of sharing, of going forth from ourselves in order to welcome others and stand beside them”.

The images are painted using the traditional Byzantine iconographical method using a gessoed board, egg yolk and pigment, varnished with shellac and renaissance wax varnish.

It is a process requiring patience and expertise in the use of the emulsion and pigments. This is the method used in Roman Egypt to paint the Fayum mummy portraits around 30 BC and has continued in use for iconography to this day.

The images are hung in the Marian side chapel of Mary Protector of Families which provides a quiet meditative space to sit and reflect on the Passion of Jesus.

I photographed the statue of Mary in this chapel years ago and have had a copy in my prayer book. She has accompanied me on my pilgrimage of life as she accompanied her son Jesus on his road to Calvary.

In the reflection available for meditation with the Way of the Family images, Mary accompanies us in our many daily challenges.

Our Lady’s “Way of the Family” icons audio tour can be accessed by the following link –  https://www.mqagoulburn.com.au/cathedral-audio-tours/.

An example of the text from the audio:

St John Paul II says the future of humanity passes by way of the family. God has great confidence in us. He entrusts us with his precious gifts of love and life. This is why over thousands of years we have developed our mantra Marriage is for family, family is for society.

Find in the Way of the Family ten encounters to help you live the mystery, beauty and challenge of marriage and family.

Encounter 1 – At table, Jesus said to them, “I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet you then should wash one another’s feet” (John).

At the Last Supper Jesus washes, teaches, celebrates, feeds and equips his loved ones with the bread of life, His body, blood, soul and divinity.

As family we come to table every day, we gather to share the happenings of the day, to cleanse ourselves of its shortcomings, the grubby parts, the weary parts; to be washed and refreshed. We come to nurture and be nurtured, to feed and be fed, to be nourished in body soul and spirit. 

The Old Cathedral and its restoration

The first Mass in the Goulburn District was celebrated by Fr Therry in 1833 at Matt Healey’s Inn, now called “Riversdale”. Archbishop Polding visited Goulburn in 1840 and laid out the site for the first Church. In 1844 the construction of the Sts Peter & Paul’s Parish Church began on the current site at the corner of Bourke and Verner Streets. In 1864 Goulburn was created a Diocese. Bishop Lanigan was then appointed as bishop. In 1871 the construction of the present Cathedral was commenced.

The Cathedral restoration has enhanced the gathering space – it has brought an ethereal light to the atmosphere. From the moment you walk in, you know that this is holy ground and that you are wholly welcome.

Sts Peter & Paul is the only greenstone cathedral in the world. It has been transformed into a sacred sanctuary that is enhanced by the restoration of the stained glass windows and the original Stations of the Cross which had been whitewashed. The original colours of the egg tempera paint and structural repair has brought the stations back to their former beauty.


Sue was introduced to Byzantine iconography in 2005 and has been studying and using this method of painting icons ever since.

Her work hangs in many churches and schools in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and beyond, including an image of St Mary MacKillop in St Christopher’s Cathedral and in the Apostolic Nunciature in Canberra.

Other icons may be seen in Holy Family Church, Gowrie; St John the Evangelist Church, Jugiong; St Thomas Aquinas Church Charnwood; the Redemptorist Mother house in Kogarah NSW; Sale Cathedral Victoria; Murwillumbah’s Catholic college; St Mary MacKillop College Isabella campus, ACT and in several private collections.

Sue undertook a six-month course studying at the Bethlehem Iconography School in Palestine in 2018 and has taken part in many courses with a number of international iconography masters.

In Bethlehem she was able to immerse herself in the daily lives and culture of Christian Palestinian families. She painted with egg yolk, pigments, studied gilding, and followed traditional methods that have been in use for more than 2000 years.

Sue Orchison’s website is: www.thelittlegate.com/

Great Doctor of the Church St Thomas Aquinas – in the Parish Church of St Thomas Aquinas Charnwood, ACT


The Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir – in the Chapel of Saint Mary MacKillop College, Isabella Plains ACT



Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop – in the Chapel of Saint Mary MacKillop College, Isabella Plains ACT



St Kevin of Glendalough – private collection






Holy Family – private collection




Mary of the Cross MacKillop – Chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature Canberra ACT