Br. Anthony Kowalczyk
A modest, shy man, Oblate Brother Anthony Kowalczyk must be puzzled by all the fuss the Church and the faithful are making about him.
Books on his life have been written. Schools and convents bear his name. People pray to him for favours. Many visit his grave at the Oblate Cemetery in St. Albert and recently the Vatican declared him venerable, which puts the beloved brother just two miracles away from sainthood.
Now a group of his followers is planning to erect a life-size bronze statue of Brother Anthony at Saint Jean College, the institution where he served as handyman for 36 years.
The project has been in the works for 12 years but began to take shape in 2008, during the celebration of Saint Jean's centennial.
Originally, a group of students and staff, as well as members of the francophone and Polish communities, wanted to create a memorial park honouring the beloved brother and the work done at the college by Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
A statue of the brother was part of the original plan but the group failed to find backers for the project and it went dormant.
In 2008, however, the project got new life when the group lined up the help of former college dean Frank McMahon, who eventually became the project coordinator.
Soon the whole college was on board, as well as the University of Alberta and the Alberta government, which eventually gave a grant for the project.
At this point the group revised its plans and decided the best way to honour the Oblates was to erect a statue of Brother Anthony "because he represents in an eminent way the virtues of the Oblates," McMahon said.
So the committee went ahead and commissioned the statue, which is now complete. It will be erected on the campus this fall.
The total cost of the project is about $250,000, which has been largely raised through private donations. The Knights of Columbus is one major donor. The project is still short about $20,000, which the committee is currently fundraising.
Brother Anthony worked at the college from its establishment in 1911 until his death in 1947 and, as the group sees it, "he was a heroic example of the Oblate ideal of total service to the people, especially the poor."
The statue is currently sitting in the studio of local artist Danek Mozdzenski. His work includes the Nellie McClung sculpture on the Victoria Promenade, the Edmonton Firemen sculpture "Rescue" at the Walterdale Playhouse and the Lester B. Pearson statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
McMahon said the statue was made life size because Brother Anthony was a modest man who didn't stand above the people. The five-foot, seven-inch statue, which was Anthony's height, will stand on a 12-inch base and will be above the level of the snow most of the time.
"It's very approachable," he said of the statue. "If you are six foot one, you'll be at the same height, more or less, as Brother Anthony."
McMahon met Brother Anthony as a child. He was five years old and his father took him to Saint Jean to pay the fees for his brother who was a student at the college. "We went to the garden to look for him and Brother Anthony was there and gave me a tomato in his hook. I still remember it. He had a big grin on his face because I was frightened of him."
McMahon served as a professor and dean at the college until he retired in 2002. He is now in charge of the college's Heritage Department, which is why the college asked him to coordinate the Brother Anthony Project.
Currently, there are about 10 people on the project committee, including Archbishop Richard Smith, its chair, and architect Jan Pierzchajlo, who was one of those who first thought of the project.
It all began 12 years ago when a friend of his took him to the Lourdes grotto that Brother Anthony built on the campus and asked Pierzchajlo to help improve it.
"So we ended up essentially coming up with a concept to develop a memorial park for Brother Anthony and, as part of that, we talked about a statue in his honour," he recalled.
The pair tried to find some champions for this idea but was unsuccessful. Things changed seven years later when the college was celebrating its centennial and Frank McMahon found out about the project. "He got excited about it and said, 'Maybe we should do this.'"
The memorial park has been dropped for the time being, but Pierzchajlo said it may still happen. "We are trying to talk to the university to see if they'll participate in that."
Pierzchajlo said the statue, which portrays Brother Anthony standing with a serene look on his face, will be placed behind the historic campus buildings facing the grotto he built. It will be close to the ravine, near a water feature built a year or so ago.
A plaque will be installed explaining who Brother Anthony was "and we are still debating whether there will be lighting or not."