A new statue of St. Francis Xavier welcomes parishioners back to church after three years of pandemic and renovations. Photo from St. Francis Xavier church

Statue embodies vitality of small town faith

  • September 9, 2022

A striking bronze statue commemorating St. Francis Xavier has been placed on a plinth in front of St. Francis Xavier Church in Tottenham, Ont., signalling post-COVID re-opening to faith.

Designed, sculpted and cast by artist John Farrugia, the statue has been strategically placed halfway between the building and the sidewalk along the road to draw people into the yard and closer to the church. The addition is part of several renovations to the small-town mission church that have taken place over the past three years, aimed at welcoming those in the community and also improving accessibility and making structural repairs.

Closed for the renovation period, the grand re-opening Mass will take place on September 11 at 11:30 a.m. The church’s adoration chapel will make the Blessed Sacrament available on a 24/7 basis. The pastor, Fr. Eric Mah, known for his popular “Catholic Latte” podcast was assigned last June to the parish about 50 kilometres northwest of Toronto. Mah says that with all the challenges experienced by so many over the past few years, the recent changes to the church symbolize a sense of renewal in many ways.

“In this post-pandemic world when many people are searching desperately for God in the midst of their own personal darkness, our desire is that this newly renovated church will provide a sense of hope that Christ remains with us in a powerful way, particularly through the availability of Eucharistic Adoration on a perpetual basis,” Mah said.

 “Our prayerful hope is that the artistry and beauty of the St. Francis Xavier statue in front of the church will draw many to the parish and serve as a striking visual reminder that we are all called to bring Christ into our communities and our world in imitation of St. Francis himself.”  

St. Francis Xavier Church was Farrugia’s first commission upon returning to Canada after 10 years of studying art in Scotland, where he obtained his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh. He was given creative freedom and poured energy into researching for this period-inspired piece. Along with the statue, Farrugia designed three relief panels for the base.

Additions to the back of the church have provided a second entrance for full accessibility, with an elevator to upper and lower levels, including a new accessible washroom. These renovations, along with the statue, have improved the overall aesthetic value of the parish, especially given its centrality as a beacon of the Catholic faith within the community.

As an artist, it’s not lost on Farrugia that creating a piece like this for a church is deeply significant, reaching beyond his work as an artist.

“I find creating devotional art very meaningful,” Farrugia said. “Once it’s up and after I’m gone, even just the nature of the material (means) it could potentially live on for a long time. I find that fascinating. It’s something I tend to constantly think about. It’s always interesting to me what meaning people bring to the piece. Ultimately it is going to be different for everybody. My intentions are what they are but really the sculpture has a life of its own once it’s cast off.”

One of the graces that has flowed from the extended time of pandemic, especially the corresponding periods of lockdown, is that many people have been forced to re-examine their own hearts and convictions with regards to their faith, says Mah. The faith is strong in the small town he says. With a rapidly growing population and many parishioners within walking distance, excitement around the church reopening is indicative of the passion for God and for church that exists in the town.  

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