As Catholics, we are accustomed to ornate crucifixes hanging above the altar, intricate stained-glass windows, and walls lined with paintings and statues of the saints. Collectively they create an atmosphere fills the senses and thus informs the mind that we are in the presence of the sacred. One of the areas of sacred art often overlooked in recent constructions are the portals. Doorways were the first indication in classic architecture that you were entering another world. We have incorporated this feature into our seminary building. The first thing one passes upon entering is the statue of St Joseph and the Child Jesus.
Kevin McCarthy, a recent graduate of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, felt honored and humbled when he was asked to collaborate with Fr Kauth in designing the statue. “St. Joseph is entirely aligned with what we do at the College of Building Arts,” said McCarthy. “Joseph was a craftsman. He worked with his hands. He was a teacher who passed down his knowledge and craft.”
McCarthy grew up Protestant and says he didn’t know a lot about the saints until he spent a summer in Florence. “For me, entering the cathedrals of Italy wasn’t simply an artistic or intellectual endeavor. It was an emotional experience. I didn’t have that in my church background, and I could really sense its importance.” McCarthy designed the statue as his Capstone Project during his final semester in college. It was a labor of love that continues. He is currently completing work on the plaster cast. The original inspiration for the statue was the Cathedral of Chartres. One of the portals has a statue of Abraham and Isaac at the moment when the angel releases Abraham from the horrific task of sacrificing his son. We wanted to capture that in the look of St Joseph and his tender instruction of the divine child.
McCarthy was reluctant to share too much design detail. “The beauty of art is that each person finds their own meaning,” he said. “But there are several symbolic elements within this sculpture.” Here are a few to note:
- Facial expression: Joseph looks sad, knowing the pain his son will one day endure. Jesus looks determined.
- Tools: Jesus holds a hammer in his right hand, showing he is constructing things. With His left hand He holds a nail foreshadowing his crucifixion. What the divine child will construct with hammer and nails is unknown to St Joseph. He will construct His Church with these instruments, but by His own sacrifice.
- Stance: Joseph’s feet are firmly planted; his arms are positioned to protect and guide. Jesus is stepping forward, as he must leave his instructor and protector and follow his intended path.
“When my instructor suggested the composition of the statue might be stronger if Joseph was looking in a different direction, Fr. Kauth disagreed,” said McCarthy. “He wanted Joseph looking over Jesus to put seminarians in the right frame of mind as they enter the building. He said Joseph was the protector of the divine son of God who now protects them and watches over their formation. He wanted the image of Joseph to be an instructive but protective figure.”
The statue will stand on a pillar between the two doors and underneath the great arch. More on the artistic design of the entryway will be revealed in forthcoming emails. For now, we thank you once again for making this a reality!