Canadian who sculpted 'Homeless Jesus' takes talents to the Vatican

National Post, 04 October 2019

Timothy Schmalz's 'Angels Unawares' is a massive work including 140 figures representing migrants and refugees from throughout history.

It’s not every day that a sculptor gets his work installed, even temporarily, in St. Peter’s Square, the masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the master sculptor of his age. Indeed, it’s not even every century. Yet last Sunday, a Canadian sculptor from St. Jacobs, Ont., was given that high honour.

Timothy Schmalz has been sculpting for more than 25 years, but came to widespread public knowledge with his sculpture “Homeless Jesus,” which depicts a homeless person sleeping on a bench. It’s so lifelike that many people have mistaken it for someone in need of aid and have approached to help. Only when drawing closer it is evident that the feet are exposed, scarred by the nail marks of the crucifixion. It is Jesus — to use the haunting phrase of Mother Teresa of Calcutta — in the “distressing disguise of the poor.”

“Homeless Jesus” was first installed at Regis College in Toronto and now is found at dozens of churches all around the world. I was pleased in 2015 to play a minor role in facilitating its installation at the papal office that dispenses practical charity to the poor and homeless inside the Vatican City.

Schmalz has been commissioned to do monumental sculptures across Canada, including a firefighters’ memorial, a veterans’ memorial and public installations honouring Gordie Howe and Gordon Lightfoot.

A favourite of mine is a sculpture for the fourth centenary of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in Penentanguishene Bay, on the southeastern tip of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. It is a traditional bronze sculpture of recognizable people and evocative symbols, not an amalgam of abstract angles and shapes that leave the viewer confused. At the same time, it breaks with the traditional depiction of Aboriginal people in Champlain sculptures as conquered peoples or inferior beings. In Schmalz’s “Meeting,” Bear Tribe Chief Aenon of the Huron-Wendat Nation meets Champlain as an equal, the two men beholding each other in a serious and respectful manner. Indeed, Aenon is presenting Champlain with a wampum belt, a sign of hospitality and concord.

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