An angel still looks over them

  • December 18, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - He may not be the Christmas angel but St. Michael has spent many Christmases with patients’ loved ones during the holidays at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.

The full-sized marble statue of the angel has been sitting in the hospital’s Victoria Street entrance since 1997. Before that it quietly guarded the older Bond Street entrance after its rescue from a second-hand store on Queen Street some time in the late 1890s by members of the hospital’s founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sr. Irene McDonald, the author of For the Least of My Brethren, a history on the hospital published in 1992, said the angel has always been a point of reference for those worried about a loved one.

“When men would bring their wives in for delivery, they would always kneel down in front of the statue and pray after their wife went up to obstetrics,” she said, recalling her stint as the night supervisor between 1953 and 1958.

These were usually Italian men and immigrants, she said. “They always dropped onto their knees. I saw it again and again.”

To this day, other staff have said they notice people stopping to touch the large marble statue or pause in front with head bowed. But the Sisters who took it home more than a hundred years ago probably could not have imagined that it would have become such an important symbol for the institution and the people who visit it.

“It was found blackened and the nuns bought it for $49 they collected from the sale of old newspapers,” McDonald said.

McDonald said that a reporter from a Toronto newspaper who toured the hospital in 1899 wrote that it was “a beautiful figure of St. Michael, set there in loving memory of a sister who had died.”

In her book, McDonald suggests that the nuns bought it in honour of Sr. Juliana Morrow, the aunt of the man who later helped the Sisters of St. Joseph acquire property at Morrow Park.

“She was respected and honoured as a hospital person and they probably felt they had suffered a great loss when she died so soon,” she told The Catholic Register.

Sr. Juliana was appointed as matron of the hospital when it opened in 1892, but died two years later of cancer.

The statue is believed to have been crafted in Carrara, Italy, out of stone taken from the same quarry as the marble used by Michelangelo for the Pieta. The name of the quarry, “Pietra Sancta,” is carved on the back.

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