The manifestations of Mary’s two greatest gifts — her son and his church — are front and center in the new addition to the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.
A 9-foot tall bronze statue of Mary — holding the baby Jesus in her right arm and a heavily detailed replica of the tower of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the other — was blessed during a special Mass at the Pastoral Center on Tuesday, Aug. 17. More than 120 invited guests attended the ceremony on a bright, sunny day that had the Blessed Mother gleaming during her public unveiling.
“We have two gifts — what do we do with them?” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said.
Citing the gospel reading, the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John, Archbishop Listecki noted that the last words attributed to Mary in Scripture — “Do whatever he tells you” — are a reminder of what Mary’s presence will bring, and the words we as Catholics try to live up to. In 1964, Pope Paul VI declared “Mary Mother of the Church” as an official title for Our Lady to indicate that all Christian people should honor and invoke the Mother of God by this most tender of titles.
“This really is a moment where we are making a statement: we are the Church and the Church is here to challenge us to live lives that call us to be responsible to Christ and his love,” Archbishop Listecki said.
In March 2019, the Pastoral Center, which is the home of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s central offices as well as Catholic Charities and Seton Catholic Schools, received its new name. In the time since, brainstorming was taking place on how to symbolize the new identity of the building on Lake Drive just south of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
“We wanted to do something to highlight that dedication to Mary,” Archbishop Listecki said.
Archbishop Listecki asked his friend and seminary classmate, Fr. Anthony Brankin, whom he has known since they were 14 years old, if he could create something. Brankin, who is also an artist, was honored to be asked to work on the project, which took more than a year to complete.
“He’s known for me a long time and he could have gone to any artist in the country,” Fr. Brankin said. “I’m just very honored he enabled me to do it. I love to do it and create something like that, particularly for the Church.”
The process included building scaffolding to frame the statue, making clay molds, building a skeleton with rebar and then bronzing the statue.
“It was what I hoped it would be,” Fr. Brankin said of the finished product.
Fr. Brankin simultaneously pursued doctoral studies in theology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas and painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. He has produced major sculptures, works in bronze, religious altar pieces, drawings, icons and prints for organizations in the U.S. and Italy.
“I was taken aback by the concept, the beauty of it,” Archbishop Listecki said of his initial reaction to seeing the finished product. He said he has heard it described as exquisite, elegant, beautiful, magnificent and heavenly. “Heavenly was the one that stuck with me, because it really is. Our first step toward heaven is when we accept Christ into our life.”
The statue of Mary sits at the west end of a new plaza that was also created as part of the project. Archbishop Listecki said he hopes the plaza will serve as a prayer and reflective place for visitors.
“It really highlights our Catholic identity,” Archbishop Listecki said of the plaza and statue. “That really highlights aspects of my three priorities: Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship.”
Archbishop Listecki thanked CG Schmidt, who oversaw construction of the plaza and the installation of the statue, and Zignego Ready Mix, which donated the cement for the plaza.
Additional projects for the property that will be completed in coming months include lighting, new sign boards and a concrete pad at the entrance for seasonal displays.
Circling back to the people who told him the statue looked magnificent and heavenly, Archbishop Listecki said, “Let’s remind ourselves of those two things. The Blessed Mother is magnificent and she points us to where our destiny is, to heaven.”