A Gift That 'Cannot Be Overestimated'
September 21, 2010 - Felix Carroll
In an historic undertaking in an historic year, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have announced plans to install a life-size Stations of the Cross on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass.
The project is being funded entirely by a married couple from Massachusetts who seeks to honor the suffering and death of Christ, The Divine Mercy, on the grounds from which His message has spread throughout the world.
"I appreciate the work the Marians do in spreading the message of Divine Mercy," said Tom, who along with his wife, Charlene, is funding the project. "It's that story you often hear about: I've had a successful career, and I want to give back."
Groundbreaking for the Stations will begin during this, the 50th Anniversary Year of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Plans call for the installation of the first four Stations later this fall and for the remaining 10 Stations to be installed by the fall of 2011.
'Art That Has the Power to Convert'
The Marians, administrators of the National Shrine, and the benefactors have commissioned Timothy P. Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor renowned for his epic Christian artwork. He will produce more than 50 life-size bronze sculptures — vivid, powerful sculptures not only of Christ but of His followers and tormentors in the last hours of His life, leading to His crucifixion and burial.
"I describe my sculptures as being visual prayers," Timothy said. His mission, he said, is "creating art that has the power to convert."
That's the hope of the Marians, too, who for years have dreamed of one day building an outdoor Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross, to enhance the experience for the thousands of pilgrims who come to Eden Hill each year seeking spiritual renewal through the redemptive message of The Divine Mercy.
A Perfect Fit for Divine Mercy
The Divine Mercy message itself, as revealed through Sacred Scripture and the private revelations of the 20th century mystic St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), centers on the Paschal mystery of Christ's Passion, death, and Resurrection. Saint Faustina, honored in the Shrine with a special side chapel that contains her relic, was called by Christ to share in His Passion, to unite her suffering to that of Christ on the cross.
In fact, pilgrims will be encouraged when making the Stations to pray St. Faustina's Way of the Cross, which is based on her Diary and is prayed at the Shrine during Lent.
Fittingly, the series of Stations will begin and end near the entrance of the Shrine, where pilgrims receive Christ's mercy though the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation and The Divine Mercy devotions at 3 p.m.
A gentle, sloping path will wind around Eden Hill's highest point, the glade overlooking the front of the Shrine. The path will accommodate wheelchairs and scooters. Each Station will be a place of rest, reflection, peaceful contemplation, and prayer.
"The spiritual value of this gift cannot be overestimated, not only from the perspective of an aesthetic quality of the art but also in terms of how this project will draw our hearts to the heart of the Paschal mystery," said Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians, who have promoted the authentic Divine Mercy message and devotion since 1941.
In Church tradition, meditating on the Paschal mystery through the Stations of the Cross has served as a means by which we can surrender ourselves more deeply to our merciful Lord, who accepted the cross for the salvation of mankind. Through St. Faustina, Christ tells us, "You please Me most when you meditate on My Sorrowful Passion" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1512).
"The cross of Christ is where our own transformation begins," said Fr. Kaz. "As St. Paul writes, 'For if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His, we shall also be united to Him in the resurrection'" (Rom 6:5).
'People Will Be Drawn to This'
The benefactors, Tom and Charlene, were inspired to initiate the project by outdoor Stations they've seen during pilgrimages to some of the world's most famous shrines.
"I was impressed specifically with the lifesize Stations in Lourdes [France] and at St. Anne de Beaupré [in Canada]," Tom said. "When my wife and I came out to Stockbridge and were given a tour of the grounds, I hought it would be a very nice setting for life-size Stations of the Cross, to proclaim the whole restoration of mankind through Christ's salvific graces.
"We believe it will be an attraction for visitors, affording stronger devotion to the Lord," Tom said. "People will be drawn to this. Particularly for the thousands of pilgrims who attend the annual Divine Mercy Sunday celebration, this will be a great draw. People will tell others who will then tell others. I believe the spiritual impact could be big. The world sorely needs Divine Mercy today."
From the expressions and body language of the sculptures to the layout of the Stations, Tom and Charlene have been working closely with the Marians and the sculptor. Tom and Charlene's granddaughter, Lauren, a university graphic arts major, has also been instrumental in providing technical support for depicting the various Stations.
Some Shrine pilgrims have already gotten wind of the project.
"A Stations of the Cross will be an awesome addition to the Eden Hill experience," said Roslyn de Matteo, a frequent visitor to the Shrine from Connecticut.
That's the kind of response Tom and Charlene and the Marians are counting on.