THE RETURN OF AN ICON
On Thursday, July 30, Matt Byrne, Principal of Damascus College Ballarat welcomed guests to the re-launch of the refurbished statue of St Martin de Porres. This statue had pride of place in the former St. Martin’s in the Pines campus of Sacred Heart College and in 1995 become part of Damascus College. The statue was inspired by the life of the 16th Century Peruvian Dominican monk who, like St. Francis of Assisi, was at home with all earth’s creatures.
Present at the re-launch were Sisters of Mercy, College Governors Sr. Berenice Kerr rsm and Fr. Adrian McInerney, members of the School Board and staff and friends of the College. In commencing his address, Matt acknowledged the Wathaurong people who have been custodians of this beautiful site for thousands of years. He observed “what I have come to learn of St Martin with his own mixed parentage and love of the environment allows another opportunity for us to focus on re-contextualising his story in our search for reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters”.
Matt spoke further regarding the presence of the statue:
“This morning we unveiled Martin for the student population and it was very well received. St Martin has stood sentry over the 48 years of education delivered by the Sisters of Mercy on this site. When I spoke with the School Captains this morning we spoke of Martin’s presence when it was only Sisters of Mercy delivering education here. Today, while Sr Marie is the only Sister of Mercy who continues that legacy, we have a wide group of committed staff and a school community who continue this ministry of Mercy education of which this statue is a reminder into the future.
Martin has witnessed much in the years since 1967. This piece of art is beautiful and has inspired others such as past student and Blake Prize winner Mary Anne Coutts to reinterpret his beauty such as in the image in the Resource Centre. There is also a resonance of Martin in the beautiful depiction of “to live by the light of Christ” by gifted artist, Kim Anderson in the Mercy wing reception area.”
Sr. Veronica Lawson provided some insights into the history of the statue.
“The Sisters of Mercy were acutely conscious of the natural beauty that was to be the site of the new senior secondary campus of Sacred Heart College and considered Martin to be a fitting patron and protector. They had prayed for the canonisation of Martin in the 1950s and made their own the prayer to St. Martin, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God, in the name of Mary Queen of Heaven, in the name of Joseph Patron of the Universal Church, St. Martin de Porres help us, for the honour and glory of God and the salvation of all [creation]. Amen.”
In 1963, the young Italian artist Ernesto Murgo had just completed his Art studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and established the Centro Italiano D’Arte in Carlton. The Sisters commissioned him to sculpt a statue of Martin for what was to be the heart of the new campus scheduled to open in May 1967. It was intended to capture the imagination while embodying the College motto, “In Altum Oculos Tollite” (Raise your eyes aloft). The fibre glass interior of the statue was overlaid in bronze and came with a warning that the bronze overlay had a limited life-span. At that time, there were no funds to cast our Martin in bronze.
By 2010, after more than 40 years of exposure, it was recognised that the statue was in need of urgent care and attention. But where was the money to be found? Fortunately, a generous donation was made by one of the members of the inaugural St Martin’s students and a fund for the Restoration of the St Martin’s Statue was established. Over the next few years, thanks to many generous individuals, groups and the Sisters of Mercy, sufficient funds became available for the project to proceed as part of the 20th Anniversary celebrations for Damascus College.’
Paul Jans, College Business Manager, outlined the work of restoration. The restoration and recasting works on the St Martin statue were completed by Melbourne based sculpture foundry Coates and Wood, with artisan Mal Wood completing the works. The foundry specialises in moulding and casting works in bronze or aluminium for Australian and International artists.
Initial work on the original statue was to repair the cracks, holes and areas of fibreglass worn down by exposure to the weather. This was required to restore the structure to its original form so that the recasting would not contain the imperfections. The statue was then cast in bronze in sections, using the lost-wax process. The cast sections were then welded together to complete the reproduction of the original piece, with the mould and the original statue then broken to prevent replication. The bronze was then detailed with copper through a patination process to give the statue a similar colour profile to the aged original work. While this work was occurring, within the atrium the maintenance team were busy arranging a new base, refinishing the tiled surface and timber work and incorporating features with both water and light, to highlight the returning statue.
The conclusion of the event noted that the timing of Martin’s return in all his bronze splendour could not have been more fortuitous. As Sr. Veronica observed: “He returns to raise our eyes aloft and to remind us of the need to share his concern for all the creatures of the earth community at the very time that Pope Francis draws our attention to earth’s distress. Martin’s return also coincides with the release of the very first images of the dwarf planet Pluto, testament to the wonders of the universe. With Martin and all those who form part of our heritage, we raise our eyes aloft in praise and gratitude, even as we keep our gaze firmly fixed on the whole earth community and respond to its cries for mercy and compassion.
The event concluded with an invitation to prayer:
Prayer to St Martin de Porres
Blessed by your example of unbounded charity
and humility of heart,
we offer our prayers through you, St Martin de Porres.
Show people of every race and nation
the paths of unity and of justice,
for the honour and glory of God
and the salvation of all creation.
May we live by the light of Christ.
Messages to: Matthew Byrne
1. (Top): Statue in the Atrium of the St Martin’s Resource Centre
2. Sisters of Mercy at the re-launch
3. Martin in the foundry
4. Matt Byrne (Principal), Marie Davey rsm (Deputy Principal), Tony Haintz (Assistant Principal – Catholic School Culture), Paul Jans (Business Manager)
5. The statue ‘in situ’