Sarasota student earns top Christmas art honor

Isabella Valentine wants to be an artist when she gets older. If the people at the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) Christmas Artwork Contest are any judge, Isabella is well on her way to achieving this dream.

Isabella is an eighth-grader at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota and was one of 24 artists to be recognized for her work in the MCA Christmas Artwork Contest. Her artwork, and that of the other winners, is on display through the Advent and Christmas Seasons at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. All winners are featured as MCA eGreetings, which launched on the First Sunday of Advent at

Isabella’s winning artwork of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Child Jesus was of her own interpretation from her creative mind.

The honor of being recognized for her artwork is very exciting for the young lady as her mother, Tamera Valentine, explained, “We are so beyond proud of Isabella and this amazing award. Isabella’s true passion is art. In her free time, she is always drawing and creating. Her dream is to go to Ringling College of Art and pursue her passion.”

Isabella’s progression and skills as an artist has impressed her parents and they encourage her in reaching for her dreams. The artwork created for the MCA contest was created when she was in seventh grade, and her mother said in one year she has improved her skills immensely.

This is not the first time a St. Martha Catholic School student has been honored through the MCA Christmas Artwork Contest. In fact, in 2021, two students were recognized, and several have been honored in years past.

Throughout the years, Mary Jo Salamone, Isabella’s art teacher, takes time to ensure her students take part in the different art competitions, but never losing sight that each award is a gift from God which should be shared with others.

“The St. Martha Catholic School art students win many national and local art awards during the school year,” Salamone said. “It is always great to see one of our students be recognized for their talent.”

Hundreds of submissions were received, both through the mail and online, for the annual MCA competition which dates back to 1933. Back then, MCA used children’s artwork on Christmas seals. Christmas cards were introduced in 2005, and in 2007 eGreetings were launched with these drawings depicting scenes of the Christmas story: shepherds and angels, the Three Kings and the Holy Family, the animals present by the manger, and the Infant Jesus.

An agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the MCA asks children in the nation’s elementary schools and Parish religious education programs and those who are home-schooled to submit their artwork to illustrate “The Nativity & Mission.”

The MCA was founded in France in 1843 by Bishop Charles de Forbin Jansen. Its purpose is to encourage all children to be aware of the needs of children living in mission Dioceses throughout the world and support them both spiritually and sacrificially. Today it is in 110 countries and helps make Jesus known to children all over the world. Under its banner “children helping children”, monies raised through schools are directed towards self-help programs involving the building of schools, the provision of health and nutrition programs and medications, school fees, as well as teaching and learning resources.

Father Joseph Gates is the Director of the Diocese Office of Propagation of the Faith (Mission Office), which coordinates activities regarding foreign, domestic, and Diocesan mission work. For more information, please call 941-776-9097 or email