LATROBE, PA—On Thursday, Oct. 27, Saint Vincent College held a blessing and dedication ceremony for a new statue, which was placed outside the campus post office, in the middle of the College’s campus.
Rev. Douglas Nowicki, O.S.B., Archabbot Emeritus, initiated the project during his tenure as archabbot. Funded in part by anonymous donors, the bronze statue of St. Benedict was created by American artist Chas Fagan.
St. Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480 – 547 CE) was a Christian monk, writer, and theologian, most known for authoring “The Rule of St. Benedict,” a text that formalized the structure of life among men and women’s monastic communities throughout Western world. Because of this, St. Benedict is widely regarded as the founder of Western Christian monasticism. He is also the Patron Saint of Students.
When Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., arrived in America in 1846, he founded Saint Vincent College, the first Benedictine monastery in the United States and largest in the Western Hemisphere. As a landmark Benedictine institution, Saint Vincent has woven the values presented in “The Rule of St. Benedict” into its liberal arts curricula and campus life to continue the tradition of Benedictine education, which is guided by the 10 Hallmarks presented in “The Rule”: love, prayer, stability, obedience, discipline, humility, stewardship, hospitality and community.
Saint Vincent College President Father Paul Taylor, O.S.B., gave remarks to open the ceremony, expressing gratitude to those who made the project possible.
“We’re grateful to all the donors who made this possible. Thank you for your generosity, your investment and your confidence in us to make this happen,” Father Paul said. He continued, “We are also grateful for the vision of Archabbot Emeritus Douglas Nowicki, who saw this project as another articulation of our mission.”
He went on to add, “We will look as a community upon this statue each day as a reminder of our mission and the vision that St. Benedict gives us in his rule for the care for one another as we all seek God together.”
Andrew Julo, Director of the Roman Verostko Center for the Arts, followed Father Paul, introducing Fagan. “At the core of Fagan’s work lies a commitment to honoring individuals within our collective history whose actions and ideas have helped shape the aspirations of millions around the world through the long arc of time,” noted Julo. “[His projects] remind us that holiness is not limited to a distant past but is made manifest within the lives of ordinary people committed to extraordinary love.”
Following Julo’s introduction, Fagan discussed his process and his artistic choices. “This was a truly fun and fantastic project. It also got me to come back home, which is great,” said Fagan, who has roots in Ligonier.
Traditionally, St. Benedict is depicted as an older man, but Fagan and Nowicki decided that a much more meaningful approach would be to portray St. Benedict as youthful, engaged and energetic. After researching St. Benedict and reading “The Rule,” Fagan drew inspiration from several passages in “The Rule” that centered around the idea of movement.
“He’s a man of motion,” explained Fagan. “The idea of movement, for me, means moving forward, always learning. You’ve always got something around the corner. It’s the kind of thing that really inspires me.”
With the idea of youthfulness and motion in mind, Fagan created a St. Benedict who is seen as striding forward over a terrain covered in thorns and uneven rocks, his robes being slightly lifted by a gentle wind. He’s holding a book, which onlookers will notice is “The Rule of St. Benedict,” and he’s carrying a shepherd staff to symbolize guidance and protection.
The statue sits on a base within a fountain. The base, a gift from the Class of 1968, is inscribed with the phrase “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” In order to read the inscription, however, viewers must circle around the entirety of the fountain, adding their movement to the action Fagan has created in the statue.
“The legacy of St. Benedict is all around us,” Fagan remarked. “He’s now standing in the middle of his community today. So here he is, personally encouraging the next generations for the future, guiding them toward a Christ-inspired life of selflessness, a life of learning and a life of work, all of which offer the greatest rewards and joy.”
Following Fagan’s remarks, Archabbot Martin de Porres Bartel, O.S.B., blessed the statue and led those present in a short prayer.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
American artist Chas Fagan grew up in Belgium and in rural Pennsylvania, gathering inspiration from the rich landscape and history of his surroundings.
Fagan’s ability to combine his artistic gifts with his knowledge of history has led to several high-profile commissions. Among his favorites are his statue of President Reagan in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, a “young Neil Armstrong” statue for Purdue University (including a surrounding plaza with moon-boot prints), his sculpture of Rosa Parks in the Narthex of Washington National Cathedral and a monumental-scale bronze sculpture in Dallas titled “Freedom’s Charge” that features two Revolutionary War figures and a billowing battalion flag from Bunker Hill. He was also fortunate to be asked to paint the official White House portrait of First Lady Barbara Bush and the official portrait of Mother Teresa for her canonization at St. Peter’s in Rome.
A self-taught artist, Fagan graduated from Yale University with a degree in Soviet Studies.