His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., will celebrate the 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, April 8 at Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica on Divine Mercy Sunday and dedicate two new Basilica statues honoring Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. His Excellency Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Diocese of Greensburg will concelebrate the Mass along with Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B.
Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014, and thus Divine Mercy Sunday 2018 was chosen for the dedication and blessing of the new statues.
The new statues join those of Saint Benedict, Saint Scholastica, Saint Placid and Saint Maurus, four saints important to the Benedictines.
Archabbot Douglas chose to honor these two new saints with statues because of their impact on the modern-day Church.
Saint John XXIII served as pope from 1958 until his death in 1963. But in that short period of time he was responsible for convoking the Vatican Council II, an ecumenical council that addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world.
Saint John Paul II was one of the longest-serving popes in recent history, serving from 1978 until his death in 2005. He presided at 147 beatification ceremonies, 51 canonization ceremonies, completed 104 pastoral visits and encountered more than 17,600,000 pilgrims in general audiences during his tenure.
The new statues were carved by sculptor Norbert Koehn of Cleveland, and are carved to match the four others—Saints Benedict, Scholastica, Maurus and Placid—in style and material, Cararra marble. The original statues were created by Austrian sculptor Ferdinand Seeboeck and completed and installed in the early 1900s.
Selecting the poses for the new Basilica statues was a process that took a great deal of time and consideration, according to Father Vincent de Paul Crosby, O.S.B., who oversaw the renovations of the Archabbey Basilica in 1996 and serves as the Archabbey’s consultant for monastic environment and art.
“Pope John XXIII reigned as pope for four and a half years,” Father Vincent noted, “so he was always seen as the same age. John Paul II reigned for 28 years, so people saw him as a young man in his fifties, as well as someone who suffered from Parkinson’s disease in his eighties. We chose an image in between, while he was still vibrant.
“John XXIII’s pose is somewhat static,” Father Vincent said. “He was a happy, jovial man, and is shown with a slight smile.” He is holding a book.
John Paul II is carrying his crozier. His pose captures a slight wind blowing his cassock with his hand outstretched reflecting his dynamic personality.
Because both saints are well-known and familiar figures, creating the statues was a challenge. For the other statues of saints from previous centuries, no one knows what they looked like, so they are idealized images, Father Vincent said.
Clay models were made of each statue prior to beginning the work in Carrara marble. The sculptor, Norbert Koehn, had carved the baptismal font and tabernacle tower, pedestal and tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, during the 1996 Basilica renovation, so he was familiar with the other statues.
Koehn, who was born in Germany and studied at Oberammergau, had also completed the pedestals on which the four original statues stand, in addition to the new ones. The four original statues had previously been incorporated into the side altars that were once in place in the monastic choir area.
Koehn carved both statues at his studio in Cleveland, but final work was done in the Basilica. “There was concern that no matter how carefully the statues were crated, that some of the delicate areas, such as hands, could be damaged in transport and installation,” Father Vincent said. “So the sculptor chose to do the final carving in the Basilica, so the delicate areas would have more stability as they were being moved.”
A video on the making and installation of the statues, done by Brother Placid Sellers, O.S.B., a monk of the Archabbey, is available here.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, and has been a long-time friend of Saint Vincent. For over two decades Cardinal Wuerl served on the Board of Regents of Saint Vincent Seminary and has been a frequent visitor to the college and seminary campuses to participate in various academic and cultural programs. He cherishes the high privilege of two honorary degrees from the college, one in Humane Letters in 1992, and the second in Theology in 2013. In 2002, he received the Presidential Medal.
Cardinal Wuerl’s close ties to the Saint Vincent community were reinforced when he served as Executive Secretary to the United States Papal Seminary Study established by Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Wuerl, a former Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is well-known for his teaching ministry and, in spite of an active pastoral ministry in his archdiocese, is the author of numerous articles and over a dozen books, including the best-selling catechisms, The Teaching of Christ and The Catholic Way. His most recent books include The Light Is On For You (2014), To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness (2015), and Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to God (2015), and The Marriage God Wants for You (2016). He is also the author of the Gift of Saint John Paul II: A Celebration of his Enduring Legacy (2011).