Mother and Child Statue
In 1976, the Church of Saint Joseph commissioned master artist Joseph O’Connell to sculpt the Mary and Child statue. O’Connell’s work was prized for being at once representational and stylized. He honed his skills as a sculptor, using no power tools, but only chisels and hammers like the master-craftsmen who carved stone images on the great medieval cathedrals.
The symbolism in the Mary and Child statue has been described by Brother Allan Reed, OSB in the following reflection:
Mary, the Throne of Wisdom
There is a great tradition in the Church of representing Mary seated with the child Jesus on her lap. In those representations where Jesus is standing, facing the viewer, or being presented to the world, Mary is called “the throne of Wisdom.” The mother of God, the Son of God and, frequently, through the representation of the book of the Gospels, the Word of God are brought together in a form that explains their relationship to one another, to God and to us.
Mary’s role of both adoring mother and the one who offers her child to the world is seen clearly in this traditional representation of Mother and Child emphasizing the theological role that Mary played in the history of our salvation. Other traditional images emphasize Mary’s maternal role in nurturing the child, frequently showing her nursing the infant Jesus. Joseph O’Connell’s sculpture of the “Throne of Wisdom” (Mary and Child) hints at that nurture; Jesus is still on Mary’s lap, his hands rest inside of hers. At the same time she is presenting him to the world. He is an older child beginning to discover his own identity separate from hers; he sits forward, looking at the distance and he holds the book that tells the story of his life and our salvation. In still other traditional representations of Mary her role as Queen of Heaven is emphasized; she is shown crowned, standing on the earth, appearing as a mystical being. In this representation, she sits on a throne, emphasizing her status in heaven while at the same time being the throne for the One whom she presents. She is queen and throne and yet she is a real woman; her large hands emphasize work, prayer or perhaps her response to the angel that she is the “handmaid of the Lord.”
Jesus sits on his mother’s lap, the posture of dependence, the posture of attachment. But he sits forward, indicating his need to “be about his Father’s business,” to fulfill the tasks required by God for our salvation. His hands rest within his mother’s; but they lie in them not holding on, showing the role he occupied between heaven and earth, born of a mother while at the same time the Son of God.
He presents the book, the story of his work for us, the “Word of God which he both is and presents,” while sitting in his mother’s lap, how she shares in that work.
On the cover of the book of the Gospels, he presents to us the cross. Ultimately, his work leads to his death on the cross, brought front and center in this Throne of Wisdom. For the cross is the wisdom of God.
The throne is a traditional representation for all royalty, or others who are esteemed. The chair raises them above us to remind us that they indeed are worthy of our prayer and reflection. Yet even the “loftiness” of the throne is counterbalanced by the simplicity of their facial expressions, their clothing, and their hair. Mary and Jesus are both royalty and humility for they are true royalty according to the Gospel: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:26-28 or Mark 10:43-45).