I recently picked up the Catholic Standard and Times and read an article about the new Padre Pio and Rosary garden at Annunciation B.V.M. parish in South Philadelphia. It continues to astonish me that Catholic parishes are insistent on utilizing artisans and craftsmen for the development of our Sacred Spaces from outside of the United States. Please do not get me wrong…the garden and its patron and theme are exceptional for their spiritual inspiration and purposes…but does the parish really need to go to Italy for the statue of Padre Pio, and China for the paving blocks to complete the Rosary walk?

There are a variety of reasons that I ask these questions. One reason is this: within the confines of a five mile radius of the parish in South Philadelphia there are at least 2 artists that specialize in religious sculptures, especially in the medium of bronze. Within this

same distances in South Philadelphia, there are 2 providers of quarried stone, one that specializes in domestic granite, and finally within the same “zone” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a warehouse of materials that could be recycled for use in such a commendable project.

These points really accentuate my point in that the utilization of existing artists, resources and materials is deplorable. American artists and craftsmen are quite literally going without work in neighboring parishes because the clergy and parishioners have been led to believe that the original works they have commissioned are less expensive when imported from Europe or the emerging Asian artisans workshops. The subject of Padre Pio is an interesting one as well. There is an existing statue of Padre Pio at Saint John the Evangelist Church in Center City Philadelphia. The artist lives in the parish one or two removed from Annunciation, and from what I understand was already asked to provide some input into the project. Why go to Pietrelcina, Italy? Why not utilize the local artist and work with him to provide a likeness of Padre Pio that could be cast in local Philadelphia foundries (there are still a few of those as well, in the same radius from Annunciation ground zero). The whole purpose of liturgical art and design is to utilize resources that are indigenous to the local community of believers.

If in fact one is genuinely interested in the development of quality liturgical art and proper renovation of our Catholic Churches the cost is of course a reasonable factor. But let’s not fool ourselves to believe that artisans two thirds around the world can supply a finished product at a better price, with the same quality of artistic interpretation than artists and craftsmen within a hardy walking distance to Annunciation Parish! At some point, price is the least of all considerations a parish pastoral council should have. They should be looking in their own backyard for someone that can provide a work of artistic integrity suitable for their worship space.

Within the same area of South Philadelphia in the past 10 years there have been a handful of Catholic parishes that have closed, merged, consolidated or have otherwise been sold off by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Why not…go green and check out the resources available from the Office for Special Projects and Closure at 222 North 17th Street. As a concerned Catholic, I think we have better things to spend 40,000.00 of parish money on than importing statuary. Let’s not forget all of the grade schools, and the two Catholic high schools in South Philadelphia that have been consolidated to form the unyieldingly long name, as well as unimaginative compounded name of Saint John Neumann-Saint Maria Goretti High School!

Liturgical art is important because it expresses our attempt to adequately worship our Creator. It is important because it expresses our deepest convictions about our sacred rituals. It is especially important because it helps us to deepen and develop our relationship as a Church and as individuals with the Triune God. However, before a parish community decides to plant some flowers, commission a statue from Italy, and place stepping stones from China, there needs to be an educational phase about the usage of American talent and resources for the design and implementation of the plan.

No one, including this author is indicating there should not be a project that enhances our Catholic Sacraments and our Sacred worship space, but I think parishioners and priest especially could use a tutorial on how to design and execute such prayerful improvements through local and existing resources. American artists, craftsmen and service providers deserve more than just a cursory glance at their crafts and talents.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes daily at: http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://catholicsacredarts.com & http://pewsitter.com He writes about Irish Catholic experiences  at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com  Comments are always welcome @ hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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