Sydney
18 May 2003

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School’s visual reminder of love

The children at the blessing ceremony

By Marilyn Rodrigues

“Just as walking is one act and needs two feet, so loving is one act which needs two objects, God and neighbour. ‘Love of God and love of neighbour are one and the same thing’.” (Dialogue 7)

These words are a gentle visual reminder of an attitude of love for the children at St Catherine of Sienna, Prestons, as they play and walk to and from the school library.

They are etched, and illustrated, in the five beautiful columns that form an arc in the Tuscan piazza-style area outside the library.

An image of their source, St Catherine of Sienna, one of the Doctors of the Church and patrons of Europe, is cast in bronze on a larger column, in the centre of them.

The new six-piece sculpture, made of sandstone, stainless steel and bronze, was blessed in a special ceremony at the school on the feast day of the 14th century mystic, April 29.

“Our whole school philosophy is focused entirely on the values of St Catherine of Sienna and her beliefs,” says Beverly Coffey, St Catherine’s principal.

“She was a woman who had a tremendous zest for life … and she was one of the greatest visionaries of the last millennium. She passes these outstanding qualities on to us all.

“Although St Catherine was a medieval saint, her personality fits in with the contemporary world,” she said.

“We have adopted her values because they are important values in the 21st century too.

“That was proved by the Pope when he proclaimed her a patron saint of Europe; what she said in her lifetime applies equally for today.”

Pope John Paul II proclaimed 20th century Discalced Carmelite, St Edith Stein, St Catherine of Sienna and St Bridget of Sweden patrons of Europe in 1999 to “emphasise the important role that women have had and have in the ecclesial and civil history of the continent down to our days”.

Fr Bob Hayes, the former parish priest, who is now based at Five Dock, told the children at the blessing ceremony that he hoped every time they walked pass the columns they will remember “what a great woman of faith (St Catherine) was and what a great woman in the Church she is”.

He said he hoped the children would grow in knowledge of their school’s patron and understanding of her message over their time at St Catherine’s.

He says that when the school was being built (it is now five years old), the intention always was to create a sacred space for the students, such as that created by the sculpture.

The school even boasts a first-class relic of the saint; a gift from the Dominican Sisters at Strathfield.

Mark Weichard and Anthony Russo of Orchard Design Studio in Melbourne created the artworks.

Mark says that he tried in the sculptures to “bridge the world of adult ideas with the life of children”.

“The message that’s in St Catherine and her life are really big ideas,” he said.

“Here is a constant reminder of those ideas because they are etched into stainless steel.

“As Fr Bob says, it is a sacred area, but it isn’t really complete until the children actually engage with that space and become part of the sacred and part of the message of St Catherine.

“In a very simple way it’s that physical contact between the children and the work itself which begins that process of them somehow taking on those ideas.

“As they get older they will come to understand those ideas more. But, for the moment, for the littlies especially, just the fact they are here, they can touch the materials, that’s enough, and the Church has always engaged people in that way when we gather.”

Anthony says that the image of St Catherine herself was the most difficult part of the sculpture to create.

“We had to try to come up with something that could be enjoyed by the children but also carried a much bigger message of what it means to be Church today, as well as a sense of leadership and how to be a female, where we are very much about that at the moment in contemporary culture.

“She is a striking person, very strong, but there is also a sense of compassion there, a sense that ‘I’m acting in the service of something important’.”

Quotes were chosen that most clearly relate to the saint’s way of praying and her understanding of her faith.

Mark says: “Our culture is really confusing us at the moment because it is suggesting that we should all be after a lifestyle with no children and no families.

“I think we should be rejecting that as a poor answer, when all I see this morning as I look around the school is richness.

“It has nothing to do with the money that’s in the bank or the car you drive (but) connections with our children, Church, with our family - and the sculpture, I think, is trying to reinforce that in a very physical way that is forever because the materials in the sculpture will last forever.

“The creation of an environment of a sacred space is really important in today’s world. We seem to have neglected that at our peril.”

He says “the hand-carved sandstone stone is representing the ancient, the computer controlled etching of the stone is very contemporary, while the words are cast in bronze, which is very traditional.

“And the magic of the sculpture is that it is completed when the children play among it.”