Canadian Sculptor’s Tribute to Life Installed in Rome and the US
Timothy Schmalz says he seeks to create art not for its own sake, but for God’s sake.
Timothy Schmalz, the acclaimed Canadian sculptor whose religious works include “Homeless Jesus” and “Angels Unawares,” has just offered to the world a striking witness to the sanctity of life. “Life Monument,” an eight-foot sculpture of Mary cradling the infant Jesus in her womb, was installed May 27 in the Church of San Marello al Corso in Rome. The following week, a larger version of the same sculpture was blessed at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, on the first stop of a multi-city tour.
A Michigan patron has generously sponsored both sculptures, the one in Rome and the one now displayed at the University of St. Thomas-Houston.
About the Sculpture
The National “Life Monument” is created with bronze and stainless steel. Mary is serene in bronze, and the viewer can’t help but see her tender love as she reaches down to embrace her pregnant womb. The infant Jesus rests peacefully, sucking his thumb in a womb composed of stainless steel and polished to a brilliant shine. The effect is that persons standing before it will see themselves mirrored in Mary’s womb. It’s a reminder, Schmalz explains, that their lives, too, began in a womb. The artist hopes to help people to recognize the beauty of the unborn child, and thus to realize that all life is precious and should be protected.
Schmalz’s Respect for Life Is Reflected in His Work
“Life Monument” is not the first pro-life sculpture by the prolific artist. “I Knew You in the Womb” depicts an angel weeping over an empty cradle, a poignant tribute to children lost through miscarriage or abortion. “Fruit of Thy Womb” depicts the Visitation — with Elizabeth on her knees, her ear on Mary’s pregnant stomach while her hand holds her own belly. In “Pregnant Holy Family,” Joseph wraps his arm around Mary’s shoulder while at the same time reaching down to gently touch her pregnant belly. “Return of the Unborn” shows an angel rushing toward heaven, holding in his arms the soul of an innocent infant.
And in “Monument to the Unborn,” Schmalz depicts post-abortive parents on their knees, looking down upon their empty hands with sorrow. Behind them, the folds of an angel’s cloak form the shape of an empty womb. The unborn child is cradled in the hands of a majestic angel as its wings shelter and comfort the repentant parents. The angel’s gesture suggests both a magnificent presentation, and the return of the infant to the Lord.
In a recent interview with Vatican Radio, Schmalz reflected on his contribution to the world’s understanding. “This sculpture,” he said, “was very exciting for me to create.” He was inspired, he explained, by a quote from the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote, “Beauty can save the world.” Schmalz hoped that beauty could also save life.
With that objective in mind, Tim Schmalz determined to create one of the most beautiful, life-affirming sculptures possible, a pro-life statue, that is all about the hope that beauty can save life. The idea of the sacredness of life, he thought, flowed naturally from his earlier artworks which focused on social justice issues including homelessness, migration and human trafficking. He wanted to create art not for its own sake, but for God’s sake.
The Rome Installation
Rome’s Church of San Marcello al Corso is located near Via del Corso, which connects the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza del Popolo. Among the acclaimed artists whose work is featured there are Francesco Cavallini, who sculpted the external travertine images, as well as Giovanni Battista Ricci, Jacob Sansovino, Antonio Raggi, Carlo Fontana, Federico Zuccari and his brother Taddeo, and many others. And now, Timothy Schmalz’s beautiful sculpture takes its place among them.
Catholic journalists and reporters were invited to San Marcello al Corso on May 27 for a liturgy and a special blessing of the sculpture by Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Speaking about the sculpture, Monsignor Paglia said:
Life enriches humanity, it always makes it more beautiful, more attractive, even with all its sorrows. Hence the responsibility to welcome it, care for it, accompany it, and multiply it.
Marina Casini, President of Movimato per la Vita Italiano (Italian Movement for Life), was also present for the installation and said:
The statue is wonderful, not only for its artistic expression, but also for the message it contains. Women hold the world in their wombs. It is a fantastic message, an ecumenical message.
The National Life Monument in the United States
An even larger version of the pro-life sculpture has begun a tour of several cities in the United States. It first arrived in Houston at the behest of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. The sculpture stands in front of the Chapel of St. Basil on the campus of the University of St. Thomas-Houston, which has a robust pro-life student group. According to the university’s website, the student group travels each year to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Right-to-Life March in Austin, Texas.
On June 5, the larger version of Schmalz’ National Life Monument was officially blessed on the U-ST campus, where it will stand until the end of the month. Father Mitch Dowalgo and Father Janusz Ihnatowicz celebrated Mass and participated in the blessing ceremony on the Academic Mall, outside the university’s Chapel of St. Basil.
Dr. Richard Ludwick, President of the University of St. Thomas Houston, said at the ceremony:
The fact that this sculpture is here, is just one manifestation of how we can celebrate the great gift of his love and life that God gives for all of us. It is perfectly fitting that we have it here at University of St. Thomas. It also speaks to us in a serendipitous way, in light of the events that have transpired recently and have occupied the headlines.
Father Dempsey Rosales Acosta, professor of theology, performed the official blessing of the statue. Addressing the faithful gathered for the blessing, Father Acosta said:
We are gathered here on a joyous occasion. This sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the unborn Jesus seeks to remind us of the beauty and sacredness of all human life. Mary is Christ’s mother, the mother of God, but she is also the image and the model of the church. This monument invites us to see ourselves in the womb of the world created by God. May it inspire in us a reverent devotion to protecting the dignity and worth of each and every human person from conception to natural death.
It is a great honor to have University of St. Thomas as the first stop of the National Life Monument in the United States. It was here, on this campus and in this chapel, where the key committee of the Pontifical Academy of Life had its meeting. This is one more way in which we will be connected to the Pontifical Academy of Life.
At the end of June, the sculpture will travel to five other locations in the United States before being permanently installed in Washington, D.C. The sculpture will be permanently installed outside the Theological College, the national diocesan seminary of The Catholic University of America, just across the street from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.