Shrine to the Mother of God and the Saints

by Rev. Gabriel Baltes, O.S.B.  |  05/21/2023  |  A Message from Our Pastor

In last week’s bulletin article, as well as my Sunday homily, I announced the new addition to our church which will be a shrine to the Mother of God and the saints. You see in the photograph here the finished statue along with the unique vigil light stand that the artist is calling “The Burning Bush.” While there are many traditional features of this image of Mary, e.g., Mary seated as a source of wisdom holding Jesus, her son, that are also some creative features, e.g., Jesus’s hand extended in welcome and also the medium from which the statue is created. i.e., corten steel.

Unlike bronze which is melted and then poured into a mold to create a statue, corten steel is welded into the shape of a figure. Therefore, an austerity and sharp texture to the statue while at the same time a smooth tenderness seen especially in the faces of Mary and Jesus. One of the key elements for appreciating this statue will be the lighting that will strike the different surfaces of the statue giving it a transcendent, numinous quality. This statue is a gift to our parish from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Along with the corten steel statue, the artist, Wiktor Szostalo, has fashioned 15 glass panels of saints that will surround the statue of Mary ensconcing her, as it were, in the heart of the Communion of Saints. As with this statue, lighting will be important in order to give these saintly images a sense of awe and mystery. While the saints will be recognizable in these depictions, they will have an ethereal quality to evoke our belief that the saints, while reigning in heaven, are still very much present to us on earth.

This smattering of saints consists of men, women, and an angel and is taken from different periods in the history of the Christendom. From the early church are: the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene and Sts. Peter & Paul. From the Middle ages are: St. Benedict & St. Scholastica, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Peregrine (the patron saint of those afflicted with cancer). From contemporary times are: St. Therese of Liseaux (the “Little Flower”), St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Representing the American church are St. Kateria Tekakwitha and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. From “heavenly time” is the image of St. Michael the Archangel. A number of parishioners have asked to purchase one of these panels as a memorial to loved ones. This will certainly be possible after I obtain more information on the cost of their construction. I believe the addition of this shrine to our church will reinforce our devotion to the saints and inspire us by its beauty as we continue to recognize the power of art to lead us closer to God.

The artist responsible for this sacred ensemble of images is a man named Wiktor Szostalo. He was born in 1952 in Kolobrzeg, a Baltic Sea resort in NW Poland. His father was a Catholic theologian and his mother a nurse. From his father he came to appreciate religion as a source of strength and healing. From his mother he learned compassion and a hands on approach to life. His interest in art came during his high school years. Eventually he earned a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the Cracow Academy where he specialized in painting and sculpture. Wiktor was involved in the pro-democracy movement in the mid 1970’s, and later became one of the national leaders of the Solidarity Movement headed by Lech Walesa. His participation in these protest movements against Communism resulted in his incarceration for a period of time until he left Poland in 1982 bound for the America. In 1990 Wiktor became a US citizen.

Wiktor’s artwork can be found in almost every major city in this country as well as throughout the world. These include: New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Carmel, IN; Houston, TX, Chicago, IL; Oklahoma City at Duke University; Oceanside, CA; and soon, Lisle, IL. Worldwide, his art can be seen in Warsaw, Poland; Copenhagen, Denmark; Moscow, Russia; Etretat, France; Vienna, Austria and Hebden Bridge, UK, just to mention a few.

Wiktor’s love for art and his profound awareness of its transformative power is evident in the manner by which he describes what he produces as well as in the artistic products themselves. We are blessed to enshrine some of his great work in our humble church of St. Joan of Arc. More details of his artwork’s arrival are forthcoming.