REPORT OF Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
5 Oct 2011
A superb bronze sculpture of Australia's first saint will be unveiled and blessed by the Archdiocese of Sydney's Bishop Emeritus, the Most Rev Geoffrey Robinson at the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney on 17 October.
The life-size statue was commissioned by the Sisters of Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the congregation founded by St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison and will be part of the celebrations to commemorate the first anniversary of her canonisation in Rome last year.
Installed last week outside the doors of the historic chapel, the sculpture will remain covered until the ceremony on 17 October which will take place following Mass at 10 am. More than 1000 are expected to attend the Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Robinson and the sculpture's unveiling with a further 1000 expected to visit the chapel during the day to pray beside the tomb of Australia's first saint.
Created by acclaimed South Australian ceramist, portraitist and sculptor, Judith Rolevink, the bronze sculpture depicts St Mary of the Cross MacKillop with two children and marks the second time the artist has been asked to create a statue of Australia's beloved saint, educator and champion of women and the poor and oppressed.
In 2009, Judith was asked by the Archdiocese of Adelaide to create a life size sculpture of Australia's first saint - then known as Blessed Mary MacKillop - to stand in front of St Xavier Francis Cathedral in the heart of the city.
"Like most people, I'd knew a bit about Mary MacKillop but very little detail about her life," Judith says and explains that her research not only included reading books and combing through archives but also included a visit to Penola, site of the first school Mary MacKillop established and now home to the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre with its museum, and detailed collection of letters, early photographs and memorabilia of her life and works.
At the request of the Adelaide Archdiocese, the sculpture Judith created depicts St Mary of the Cross MacKillop from this time as a vibrant young woman in her 20s. The sculpture is alive with energy and movement with the Saint captured full stride, holding the hands of a young girl and an Aboriginal boy.
The statue quickly became a favourite of the Sisters of Joseph and when they commissioned their own statue for Sydney's historic Mary MacKillop Place, they were keen for Judith to capture the same wonderful swirl of movement where it seems at any moment the children and St Mary of the Cross will step off the pedestal and into real life.
"But rather than portraying her in her 20s, the Sisters wanted her as she would have been in her 40s, which was her age when she moved to Sydney, founded the Mother House and where she based herself for the rest of her life," Judith explains.
Although many sculptures of the Australian saint, including the one outside Adelaide's Cathedral, depict her accompanied by children, the Sydney sculpture reveals a confident, compassionate, warm woman now in the prime of her life, standing alone, her arm outstretched in welcome.
As the sculpture would be positioned just outside the chapel doors, the Sisters were eager, the depiction conveyed a real sense of welcome to the thousands of pilgrims who visit the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel each year to pray beside her tomb, and to visit the adjacent museum and gardens where her life, work and spirituality is remembered and celebrated.
Judith says she was given the commission late last year, not long after the Sisters returned from the canonisation by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. After several discussions with the Sisters, Judith says she came up with different ideas for the statue and made a series of drawings. From these the Sisters in collaboration with Judith chose the one they liked best.
But before beginning work on the actual sculpture, Judith says she spent several weeks on research, pouring over photographs, letters and books on the Saint's life.
"For me, the research never stops. The more you do, the more of a feeling you get for your subject, and as a result I know her a lot better than I did," she says.
One of the difficulties for all artists creating a sculpture of Mary MacKillop is that although photographs, drawings and even paintings of her exist, none show her in profile or what she might have looked like from behind.
"While I don't know what her profile was like, from all the research I have a pretty good idea and try to get as close to that as I can," she says.
For four months Judith worked in her South Australian studio modelling the life size sculpture in clay. It was then a team from Melbourne's Fundere Foundry which specialises in fine arts, travelled to Adelaide to take moulds of the statue. Returning to Melbourne, wax impressions were then made from the moulds and using a melting wax process, casting of the sculpture in bronze began.
Judith then spent the next few weeks on patination - colouring the bronze to create an even more life-like effect. Then finally last week, the sculpture was complete and on its way to Sydney.
On 28 September, with Judith on hand, the statue was installed outside the doors of the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, then covered to await the anniversary Mass of the canonisation on Monday morning, 17 October and the sculpture's unveiling and blessing.
"It will be very exciting," says Judith who will fly to Sydney for the ceremony.