II. Sculpting Our Lady of Fatima
McGlynn, returning to Providence College in 1946 with the express understanding that he could do sculpture, contacted the Rigali brothers about the proposal they had made to him six years earlier. After consultation, it was agreed that Tom would do three figures for them: The Blessed Virgin, The Sacred Heart, and St. Joseph. A formal contract was signed with the approval of his religious superiors, and Tom was finally in business as a professional sculptor.
The first work done in Providence was a statue of Our Lady. Two of Tom's classmates, John Rubba and William Hinnebusch suggested that this might be a statue of Our Lady of Fatima since the Church had recently released more information about the apparitions at Fatima and since the Shrine at Fatima was growing in international reputation. Tom was impressed with what he knew of Fatima, so he was eager to do such a statue. The Rigali Brothers agreed that the first statue would be of Fatima. Tom's conception of Our Lady was based on his personal interpretation of the current information, and he was confident that it was an authentic expression of the apparitions. Pleased with the statue upon completing it, he felt that it would be suitable for reproduction, and so he brought it to Chicago where it was approved by Mr. Rigali.
Now he began to question whether the public would accept the statue as authentic. While visiting friends in Detroit, he broached the subject and a woman providentially asked,"Why don't you go to Portugal to see Sister Lucy?"(1) Lucy, of course, was the only survivor of the three children who had witnessed the apparitions in 1917. Tom called Mr. Rigali in Chicago, who not only approved of the proposed trip to Portugal but also agreed to subsidize it. Armed with the permission of his religious superiors to make this trip during the semester break at the College and with a letter of introduction from Cardinal Spellman to Cardina] Cerejera, Bishop of Lisbon, Tom flew to Portugal in February of 1947.
Fatima is now well known to the Catholic world. Our Lady first appeared to three small children tending sheep near Fatima, Portugal on May 13, 1917 and asked that they return to the site on the thirteenth of each month until October. The children were Lucia dos Santos, ten years of age; Francisco, her nine-year-old cousin; and Jacinta, Francisco's seven-year-old sister. Essentially a call to penance, Our Lady's message implored humanity to stop sinning, with warnings of future disaster by war, the rise of Russia as a sinister power that would actually be a divine chastisement for sin, the destruction of many nations, widespread famines, and the like. Since the 1940s Fatima has become known in the Catholic world as a place of pilgrimage for peace.
Cardinal Cerejera, Bishop of Lisbon, wrote a letter of introduction for Tom to Don Jose da Silva, Bishop of Leiria-Fatima who was in charge of the Shrine at Fatima. All information about the apparitions came from his office, and he also determined who might have permission to see Lucy. To avoid publicity after the apparitions, her bishop had placed her in an orphanage where she went by the pseudonym, Maria das Dores. She later entered the Sisters of St. Dorothy and was now at the Convent at Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from the Town of Oporto, two hundred miles north of Fatima. Here she was called Irma Dores. Irma is Portuguese for Sister.(2)
While waiting for permission to visit Lucy, Tom went to Fatima to visit the Shrine as well as the house where Lucy was born, and to speak with her two sisters about the apparitions. Accompanied by Father Gerard Gardiner, an Irish Dominican stationed in Lisbon who acted as his interpreter, he finally saw Lucy. The Bishop not only allowed Tom to visit her but also to question her about the apparitions, a permission not normally given since all questions regarding them were routinely answered by the Bishop's Office which had complete records of Lucy's experiences.
Tom was proud of his statue of Our Lady which he had brought to Portugal for Lucy's approval. In fact, his mentor, Carl Milles, had remarked that it was the best sculpture that Tom had ever done. Tom, therefore, was eager for Lucy's approval, but he was in for a rude awakening. After examining the statue for some time, she said,"It's not the right position. The right hand should be raised and the left, lower down. The garments in the statue are too smooth. The light was in waves and gave the impression of a garment with folds. She was surrounded by light and she was in the middle of light. Her feet rested on the azinheira (a small holm oak tree). The leaves of the azinheira were small as it was a young tree. The leaves did not bend down."(3) This was a shock to Tom who thought that Our Lady had appeared on a cloud, a form he considered to be appropriately artistic. Lucy added,"She always had a star on her tunic. She always had a cord with a little ball of light,' and she indicated an imaginary pendant around the neck falling down near the waistline.
She explained that there were only two garments visible, a simple tunic and a long veil or mantle. The tunic had no collar and no cuffs. Nor was there a cincture or a sash around the waist, although the tunic was drawn in at the waist. The sleeves were not wide, and the mantle and the tunic were a wave of light. When Tom asked her how one distinguished between the mantle and the tunic, she said,"There were two waves of light, one on top of the other." When Tom asked her if there was a line of gold on the mantle, she explained "It was like a ray of sunlight all around the mantle." She further explained that this ray around the mantle was like a thin thread. The mantle in Tom's sculpture was a long, oval contour which he treasured. Lucy said, "It seemed to be straighter. It was a thing all made of light and very light, but it fell straight down. The clothing was all white. The cord was a more intense and yellow light....The light of Our Lady was white and the star was yellow."
Tom had added hair around the neck to fill out the form, but Lucy insisted that she never saw any hair. Nor did she see whether Our Lady was wearing sandals because she never looked at her feet. Tom asked her if the face and hands and feet of Our Lady had the color of light or the color of flesh. She answered,"Flesh colored light; light which took on the color of flesh "As to Our Lady's expression, she commented,"Pleasing but sad. Sweet but sad." She told Tom that the face of his statue seemed too old. She also stated that Our Lady appeared as the Immaculate Heart in June only, and that the heart appeared out from the body and was surrounded by thorns.
When Tom came to Portugal, he was confident that Lucy would only ask for minor changes, not the major changes she spoke of. Tom's statue had been done symbolically but with a certain artistic liberty which he felt necessary. As he tried to defend his sculpture through symbolic expression, Lucy said,"No matter what you do, you won't give the impression of the reality"(4) It was quite evident, then, that Tom was far off the mark with respect to Lucy's recollection of the apparition. He was now in a quandary. He had come to Portugal to guarantee that his statue might be an authentic representation of the apparitions, but he also wanted the artistic liberty to give a sculptural expression to the apparitions. As a man of simple, but educated, faith, he wished to express the vision as it really was. While he might be able to justify his statue on artistic grounds,he certainly could not do so on spiritual grounds, and so he had no choice but to make a new statue.
Thus, it was agreed that Tom would remain at the convent to do a new statue under Lucy's direction. What happened is something unique in the life of the Church and the history of sculpture: a documentary of a spiritual experience that one had with the Other World. Lucy was the narrator and Tom the instrument through which Lucy would express what she saw.
For the next seven days, from February 8 to February 14 in 1947, Tom was no longer an artist, but a craftsman pliable in the hands of this simple peasant girl from Fatima. In his humility and deep faith, Tom subjected his will and his artistic judgment to Lucy's. Those who knew Tom realized that this was not an easy thing for him to do. Lucy sat with him in the studio during much of the time that he worked on the new statue. She would make corrections as he worked, and at times she would even take one of the tools and make changes in the model. Tom was inclined to rebel against this intrusion into his artistic world, but he did not. Finally, Lucy was reasonably happy with the statue. It had been a stupendous week in Tom's life, as one can read in his account of the making of the statue.(5)
In the process of making the statue, the Mother Superior of the Community, who spoke some English, joked about Tom's chainsmoking. She was half serious. Tom defended the addiction as a harmless kind of fidgeting that relieved tension. She said, "What does this mean, fidgeting?" Tom explained by giving examples of thumb-twiddling, paper-tearing, and nailbiting "Nearly everyone fidgets,"he said. Understanding now what fidgeting meant, in her broken English she said,"But I don't smoke; and I don't fidgets."
One daywhile Tom worked, Irma Dores decided to do some sculpturing. Tom gave her some clay and she made part of the head and the figure, but when the day was over, she threw the clay back into the bin. They worked together, after a fashion, in the making of the statue. After the clay figure was made, Tom with the help of an assistant, cast it in plaster. When all was completed, Tom remarked,"The work had been trying but the reward was very great; the joy of seeing Irma Dores pleased." Toward the end of the modeling, Lucy had said,"Although it has been a lot of work it is worthwhile to get it right." Tom wrote in his book: "It was indeed worthwhile not only to have arrived at a fairly accurate representation of the vision of Our Lady of Fatima but also to have achieved in the process a rather pleasing sculptural design. The composition was not mine at all. It was in every respect that of Irma Dores. The execution alone, and that under all of the specifications and corrections given me by Irma Dores, could be considered proper to my own efforts. I shall always think of this as our statue. The success which it has had cannot be explained by artistic skill of mine, but rather must be accounted for by the spiritual skill of the little child who saw Our Lady at Fatima."
With the statue completed, Tom returned to the Bishop of Leiria to thank him for this opportunity to see Lucy and to correct the statue. Since Lucy had participated in the new statue, Ton asked the Bishop permission to do a large figure of it for the niche on the facade of the Shrine. Tom suggested that the funds for it execution might come from American Catholics as a perpetual symbol of American Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin at this, her newest shrine. The Bishop liked the new statue better than the first one that Tom had brought to him, but he said that he had already commissioned a statue for the niche. He suggested, however, that it might go inside the Shrine.
Tom left the Bishop and returned to the Shrine for one last time. While there, a small boy sought out"the priest from the United States" and said that the Bishop wished to see Tom again. Tom returned to the Bishop's office and after a few minutes of discussion, the Bishop accepted Tom's request to do the statue for the outdoor niche. Tom was surprised but delighted at this turn of events.(6) That evening Tom telegraphed his parents, his superior, Father T. S. McDermott, and John Rigali of Daprato Statuary Company in Chicago, about the Bishop's approval of the statue for the Shrine. It was Father McDermott who had sent Tom to Rome to study sculpture and it was Mr. Rigali who had made the Fatima trip possible.
Tom left Portugal and arrived in Rome on March 4, 1947, where Pope Pius XII blessed the new statue. It was this same Pope, who, as Cardinal Pacelli, had visited Tom's Rome studio in 1934. At that time, Tom had given him the bronze plaque, The Prodigal Son, and it was for Pacelli's brother that the 1935 novena to Blessed Martin de Porres was made. The Pope was, therefore, familiar with Tom. This Pope was also a devotee of Fatima. On October 31,1942, he had participated in the closing ceremonies marking the Silver Jubilee of the Fatima apparitions by making a radio address in Portuguese to Portugal. At the conclusion of these ceremonies, he had made an Act of Consecration of the World to the Immaculate Heart. He had solemnly renewed this Act of Consecration in St. Peter's before the College of Cardinals in December of 1942. At Lucy's request, he had extended the Feast of the Immaculate Heart to the Universal Church. His Legate crowned the image of Our Lady at the Cova at Fatima on May 13, 1946. At Tom's request, he now blessed all those who were working to promote the message of Fatima in the United States. Tom returned to America with a new image of Fatima and with a new understanding of its spiritual message, one he was now determined to promulgate.
Returning to Providence College in March of 1947, well after the second semester had begun, Tom was not well received at the college since other men had to fill in for him. Father McDermott, his Provincial superior, therefore, told him to go on to Chicago to execute the five-foot version of the statue which Tom had been contracted to do for the Daprato Company. Taking three weeks to complete, the plaster statue was dedicated at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in New York on Mother's Day, May 11, 1947. Tom's mother had died on May 7th, and while Tom preached at the dedication ceremony, his mother lay in state at the funeral home across the street from the church.
Time passed. . . He wrote a small pamphlet giving essential facts about Fatima. In 1948 Little, Brown published his book, Vision of Fatima, which recorded his stay in Portugal with Sister Lucy as he sculpted the new interpretation of her spiritual experience.
It was not until March 7, 1956 that work began on the Fatima statue. It was completed on April 5, 1958. The work was done at the Daprato studios in Pietrasanta, a town long known for its involvement in carving marble. The statue was dedicated at the shrine in Fatima, Portugal on May 13, 1958, the 41st anniversary of Lucy's vision. The statue was placed on a pedstal in front of the Shrine, since reinforcement of the tower was necessary before the statue could be placed in the niche. The Portuguese Navy raised the statue to the niche in 1959. Twelve years had passed from the time that Lucy had approved of the statue.
1. Thomas McGlynn, O.P.,"Autobiography" unedited transcript(Providence: Providence College Archives,1977) p.133.
2. Thomas McGlynn, O.P., Vision of Fatima, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co.,1948), p.60.
3. Ibid., pp. 62-70.
4. Ibid., p. 67.
5. Ibid., pp. 99-113.
6. Ibid., pp. 124-132.