Claire Dwyer blogs about motherhood, the sacramentality of everyday life, and all things Catholic at EvenTheSparrow.com; and contributes regularly the WomenofGrace.com and CatholicMom.com. She coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.
It is an image with a profound message of hope, spoken without a single word. It is a missive of mercy, written in the depths of the human heart, now carved in stone and displayed in full sun. It is a sculpture planted on holy ground and now blessed to be a blessing to others.
For Mark McKeon, it is a monument meant to forever memorialize a woman who lived to regret a tragic choice and whose story is one that speaks of motherhood restored.
Memorial for Unborn Children is the masterpiece of Slovakian sculptor Martin Hudacek. It beautifully depicts a woman on her knees, doubled over in grief, and a translucent child, tenderly reaching for the mother.
McKeon, moved by an advertisement for the post-abortion retreat Rachel’s Vineyard in his church bulletin, stumbled upon the image online. It struck him deeply, and when he lost his wife, Susan, to an inoperable brain tumor in February 2017, he knew immediately that he wanted to donate a replica of the statue in her honor.
Susan had an abortion as a young woman. It was a decision, McKeon said, she “was haunted by … for the rest of her life, until the very day she died.”
Susan dedicated her own life to serving others. She was a mother of two biological and two adopted children, one of them handicapped, and an attentive hospice nurse, yet she was never able to shake the pain of the one life that had been lost. As McKeon wrote on Facebook:
She never stopped mourning for that lost baby. At times, she doubted that God would ever forgive her. She once said that she thought the reason she could not easily sustain a pregnancy was because God was punishing her. I think there was part of her that spent her life trying to atone for that single mistake. And, ironically, the world is a better place because she did. Once, she read that you should give your lost baby a name. She named her baby Claire Grace.
After Susan’s death, McKeon contacted Martin Hudacek and asked him to create a replica of the original. Although the statue has had quite an impact already, both in print and in smaller-scale models, this would be the first full-size replica in the United States. It was gifted to Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fresno, California, and dedicated there Feb. 25, exactly one year from Susan’s death.
In the presence of Susan’s family and friends, as well as the sculptor and his brother, who had flown in from Slovakia, Holy Spirit pastor Father Patrick McCormick blessed the monument and prayed to God that “it may be a sign to us of our need for your grace.”
While dedicated to Susan, the statue holds a more universal message. In the short time since it was installed, McKeon reports that more than a half-dozen women have contacted him to share their story of grief and grace. They all say the same of the image: “That is me.” In the end, that was McKeon’s hope. “I am,” he said, “dedicating … this sculpture to the Holy Spirit because I believe there are many women in Susan’s exact situation who need to know that forgiveness is possible, that God’s Divine Mercy can reach even them.”
It is a truth McKeon believes Susan has now been fully able to embrace:
I believe that when Susan left this earth, she was greeted by her loved ones, including her mother and father, and by busloads of her hospice patients whose last days of suffering she helped ease. I also like to believe that she was greeted by Mother Teresa, to whom she had a special devotion, who would have seen in Susan a kindred spirit.
I believe the sweetest reunion, however, was between Susan and Claire Grace. I like to believe that it looked like this statue. And that when she greeted her, Claire Grace said, ‘I forgive you, Mommy, and God forgave you a long, long time ago. So come on! Get up, and let’s go into the next room! There’s a huge banquet waiting for us, and you are the guest of honor!’
For more information about hope and healing after abortion, please visit HopeAfterAbortion.org
For more information about the sculpture and to obtain prints of the image, please visit 4life4family.org/sculpture.