Granite and clay: Creativity, patience shape sculptor for priesthood

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

(CNS) — In the small dormitory room that smelled of moist modelling clay,
dozens of statues of a laughing Jesus lined wooden shelves against a wall.

small plaster statuettes showed the Lord reclining on the ground against a
rock, his eyes pinched tight and his hand on his chest, which was inflated with
a hearty hoot.

students become deacons, I give them one,” said Edward Gibney, 54, a
Canadian seminarian and sculptor from Saskatchewan. He was preparing to be one
of nine men ordained to the diaconate in the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the
Walls June 15.

doesn’t say in the Bible, but I believe he laughed,” he said, explaining
his motivation for the “Laughing Jesus” motif, adding that the
unguarded moment of mirth shows “the human side of Christ.”

the souvenir statuettes were ready to go, Gibney was still putting the
finishing touches on a bust of Msgr. Roderick Strange, the former rector of
Rome’s Pontifical Beda College, which is a seminary for older men run by the
Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

keep saying it’s pretty well done,” he told Catholic News Service in early
June. But he confessed he has a hard time knowing when to put away the tools as
he shaved a bit of soft Plasticine from under the eyes and padded the upper lip
with a bit more of the dark gray clay.

old sculpting professor, he said, used to compare finishing an art piece to
raising children and realizing, “OK, they’re old enough and ready to go
out on their own.”

the same teacher Gibney pays homage to with his mustache. He said he was asked
to show up at the professor’s retirement party 20-plus years ago pretending to
be a long-lost relative of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. He kept the iconic
look going when the professor passed away soon after.

many years spent as a professional sculptor — often working in contemplative
solitude and patiently shaping a fluid form from hard stone — gave him
insights he believes will be valuable as a priest.

a person’s soul is not anything like a chunk of clay or rock, caring for
“people’s eternal life is something that takes time, it takes an
understanding of people” and patiently uncovering what they need, he said.

pastor needs to be creative because there is no “cookie cutter”
answer or response valid for everyone and the priest needs to recognize his own
limitations, “to recognize what you can do” or not.

he still has another year of studies in Rome before priestly ordination back in
the Diocese of Saskatoon, Gibney said he hopes that he will be able to practice
at bit of his craft at different parishes just as he found a way to continue
his artwork during his studies.

Beda College, where he has completed his third year of studies, has been
extremely accommodating, Gibney said, letting him use an extra room furnished
with a small sink as his makeshift studio. He repurposed a gutted metal desk
frame for his sculpting stand and mounted circles of particle board together
for the banding wheel.

in Saskatoon, he produced many works of religious art, including a large
granite representation of the baby Jesus, Mary and her aging mother Ann for the
St. Ann’s senior citizens’ home.

how God was “working with me in my studio” and recognizing “he’s
working with you all the time in everything you do” was a key part of his
vocational discernment process, he said.

art is a form of evangelization, Gibney believes.

he was finishing the outdoor granite piece for St. Ann’s, for example, the
sounds of carving and sanding drew people from the community to come out and
watch him work. Questions and conversation followed, he said. “I became
the entertainment for about three months. It was lovely.”

he’s a priest, he said, he would imagine taking whatever free bit of time he
finds to throw on his work jeans and — as a sort of sculptor-priest’s version
of ringing the church bells — “pound on a piece of granite.”

does get people’s attention.”

then get a better idea of what a priest is, he said. “A priest isn’t just
that guy who wears the collar and you see him only once a week on Sunday. He is
part of the community and he is trying to contribute to the good of the
community,” Gibney said.

opening the church,” he said, showing that the priest is there to serve
everyone in the community. “Catholic or not, they are part of the
flock” and Christ, through the priest, is out there with them.

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Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz

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