By Karen Baker, Contributing writer
A new statue graces the grounds of Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville, and it’s no ordinary statue.
Carved from Carrara marble in the town of the same name in Italy, “Ave Regina Pacis” (Hail Queen of Peace) is a work of art, straight from the heart of sculptor Cody Swanson.
“This is the choicest of choice marbles,” said Swanson, who was in town from Florence, Italy, for the blessing and dedication on Feb. 11, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.
“One of the hardest decisions I ever had to make,” Swanson said, was when he decided to redo the statue after noticing several imperfections when the first block of marble was cut.
After about seven months of work, Ave Regina Pacis and the accompanying pedestal, carved from Bardiglio marble, was shipped from Livorno, Italy, to New Orleans, trucked to Mandeville and put in place.
The statue is based on Ave Regina Pacis in St. Mary Major in Rome; however, Swanson said, this statue is an original in every way.
“It is unique, one of a kind, custom-made as you would say in America, for this parish,” he said.
Swanson, who was born in Minnesota and grew up in Hawaii, moved to Italy at 18 to study art and has remained there, working as a sculptor and a teacher, and raising five children with his wife, Alina. In fact, Swanson, who grew up Pentecostal, converted to Catholicism in Italy and has made Catholic works of art his vocation.
“It is all or nothing” with sculpture, he said.
When Father John Tran, pastor, and the pastoral council of Mary Queen of Peace decided to place a statue dedicated to the parish patroness on the property, Father Ian Bozant – parochial vicar at the time – suggested Swanson, who had created a bronze statue on a marble pedestal at St. Patrick Church in New Orleans.
Swanson said the work on Ave Regina Pacis was an honor for him.
“On a daily basis, I contemplated the mysteries of our faith,” he said. Although Swanson used his son Luca as a model for the baby Jesus and his wife for reference for the Blessed Mother, he said it is important to note that the Virgin Mary’s face must not look like just anyone you know.
“She should have a universal, classical look,” he said. “Her face should be perfect; she should be idealized.”
At the blessing ceremony, parishioners of Mary Queen of Peace were in awe of the new statue, which sits in a circle in front of the Parish Center and was paid for by a parishioner who originally donated to the project when it was launched with #iGiveCatholic giving day in 2015.
“There are just no words to describe it,” said Ida Estopinal.
After the blessing, several people stopped Swanson to offer their appreciation. One surprising reaction for Swanson was how many people expressed love for the back of the statue, where baby Jesus rests his hand on his mother’s back.
For his part, Swanson hopes his work glorifies the Lord. He hopes people see what he sees in the faces of the Blessed Mother and her son.
“You see their love for one another; we should emulate that,” he said.
Karen Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.