National Catholic Register

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Sculpture is One of Shrine’s Final Touches

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 11/14/99 at 2:00 PM

 

WASHINGTON—The Universal Call to Holiness, a massive marble carving inspired by a central teaching of the Second Vatican Council, will be dedicated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Nov. 14 during a noon Mass.

Washington's Cardinal James Hickey was expected to lead more than 60 bishops from around the country in the dedication Mass.

Stonemasons recently completed installation of the 37-ton, 780-square-foot sculpture, which covers the south wall of the Basilica's upper church.

The event will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of the shrine's dedication by Cardinal Francis Spellman on Nov. 20, 1959, a significant event in U.S. Catholic history.

The marble image depicts a fundamental and long-held doctrine taught by the Church — that every person is a unique creation of God, with ineffable dignity, a calling to sanctity and, ultimately, eternal union with the Creator in heaven.

The theme and title were recommended by Cardinal Hickey and are based on the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which states:

“The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God.

“They are told by the apostle to live as is fitting among saints' (Eph. 5:3), and to put on ‘as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience’ (Colossians 3:12), to have the fruits of the Spirit for their sanctification (Galatians 5:22; Romans 6:22).”

Upon the sculpture's installation, the cardinal said, “People come to the shrine to be renewed by the Word of God.… We take our renewed faith with us, out the great doors of the Shrine, and into the world where we find ourselves. Not all at once, but eventually, we see our lives have a wonderful purpose, and that purpose is realized when we say ‘yes’ to the call of holiness.”

Maryland artist George Carr designed the sculpture, which features people from various states of life, social classes, and ethnic origins being drawn toward God the Holy Spirit portrayed in the form of a dove. A team of 22 artisans in the Italian village of Pietrasanta recreated Carr's image in marble. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are among the nearly 50 figures in the majestic image.

Dr. Joseph Braddock of Alexandria, Va., made the sculpture's commission possible through a $1 million grant from his charitable organization, the Aztec Foundation.

Rugo & Carosi, LLC, a Virginia-based natural stone and mosaic firm served as the general contractor for the project. In a related project, the company covered the brick walls of the Basilica's narthex and adjacent vestibules with marble and its ceilings with mosaic tile.

The basilica's rector, Msgr. Michael Bransfield, explained that the installation of the Universal Call to Holiness follows a plan for interior embellishments of the Shrine from its origins.

“One of the reasons that the shrine's first architect, Charles Maginnis, decided on a Byzantine-Romanesque design for the National Shrine in 1919, was that it allowed for gradual architectural and artistic adornments to the interior as funds permitted,” Msgr. Bransfield said. “Maginnis, and others associated with the shrine in its earliest days, clearly realized that it would be many years before the shrine's interior could be appropriately completed.”

The sculpture is of Botticino Classico marble, which is known as much for its resistance to shock and wear as its beauty and coloring. Quarried in the mountainous Brescia region of northern Italy, Botticino marble has been used in building construction for more than 2,000 years.

“As we mark the 40th anniversary of the shrine's dedication,” said Msgr. Bransfield, “we can take great pride in completing the work of our ancestors in faith for the benefit of future generations of pilgrims who will claim the shrine as their own.”

Named in honor of the patron of the United States, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, begun in 1920, it is the largest Catholic church in the Americas and the eighth largest church in the world.