Cast in clay is the model for artist Louise Weir’s monument to St. John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Agnieszka Ruck

A monument to greatness

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 26, 2024

Those behind a larger-than-life monument of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa are hoping it will match the calibre of other great and historic Catholic works and inspire generations to come.

“The statue itself will say: this is who we were, you find out what we did,” said Deacon Richard Podgurski. “Ten years from now, the young people who are not born yet, will ask, ‘Why are they together? Who are they?’ ”

Pope John Paul II, who has been described as the most-seen person in history, and Mother Teresa, the firecracker who started the Missionaries of Charity and shone a spotlight on some of the world’s most forgotten people, will be depicted holding hands and looking forward with Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral behind them.

The goal is “silent evangelization,” said Podgurski, a member of the St. John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa Fund Committee.

“Art speaks to us without words,” he said. “The quality and size of the art will impress people. We don’t have something similar here.”

The handclasp may be an unlikely pose for the two saints, Archbishop J. Michael Miller admitted as he examined the statue’s progress. But it was not uncommon for the diminutive nun, 10 years older and almost a foot shorter than the Polish Pontiff, to be seen holding his hand or leaning on him.

“They had a great devotion to each other,” Miller said. In this depiction that will be immortalized in bronze, “they are supporting each other, two great people. Here, they are looking forward, not looking at each other. They are looking intensely at the spectator, the viewer, and it is both powerful and tender.”

Their influence on local people is powerful as well. Pope John Paul II drew crowds across the country when he visited Canada (including Abbotsford and Vancouver) in 1984 and he is the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s secondary patron. A Catholic school and the Archdiocese’s pastoral centre are named after him.

Mother Teresa visited Vancouver twice, in 1976 and 1988, and established a community of Missionaries of Charity who still faithfully serve the poor in the Downtown East Side, with many supporters.

“She has left a big inheritance, a big legacy,” said the Archbishop.

Artist Louise Weir has been meticulously shaping both likenesses in clay. A portrait sculptor by trade, Weir calls this project “monumental” and the largest she has ever done. She is getting to know the saints’ unique qualities as she studies their features in hundreds of photos and videos.

“Mother Teresa, to me, seems a very dynamic person. I have seen other sculptures of her where she’s soft and languid and I just don’t see that in her. I know most saints are put that way. But I see her as very active, like a busy little person, a ball of dynamo,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II “has such a lovely expression and sense of warmth” in photographs, she said. “His pictures are so benign and gentle.”

She has previously created two statues of Pope John Paul II and both are displayed at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre. As in these projects, the clay sculpture she is currently shaping will be used to create a mould, then taken to a foundry and replicated in wax, and finally, cast into bronze. Because of its size, this statue will be cast in pieces and welded together.

The Pope and the nun, two silent witnesses to the Gospel, will be installed outside the cathedral in the fall. An exact date has not yet been announced.

A book that captures the powerful life events of the two saints and their unique relationship will be published at the same time. It will include never-before-published stories, personal testimonies from people who met them and hard-to-find and fascinating details about their lives. The book will also include the names of donors.

Podgurski said the statue bears a very good resemblance to this “man of peace” and “woman of service” and is unlike any other work on display in Vancouver’s downtown core.

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