This summer marks the 15th year since the Franciscan friars arrived at Sacred Heart (2005). The friars assumed pastoral leadership from the Jesuits of the Southern Province, who had well served the people since 1882; diocesan priests serving the parish from 1860 until the Jesuit arrival. The Jesuits have left their mark in downtown by the amazing edifice that is our church. Their legacy also is appropriately displayed in their motto, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, to the greater glory of God,” which adorns the arch over the transept/sanctuary in the church.
And so, we have been reminiscing a bit about the past 15 years. We arrived just at the end of a major project that renovated and repaired the stained-glass windows in the church. While the stained-glass was restored to its initial glory, the rest of the church was in need of repairs and a new, warmer environment. There are fewer and fewer parishioners who remember how dim the church was and the color of the interior paint (a 1960s “California” dessert brown as someone described it) did not help offset the lack of lighting. In 2009, Fr. Andrew (the first Franciscan pastor) initiated a project to repaint the interior in a lighter color that would reflect and enhance the newly installed lighting in the nave, transept and sanctuary.
Some folks assumed we would paint over the Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam and replace it with a Franciscan element. That particular thought did not occur to us as the Jesuit tradition needed to be remembered. I tried to convince Father Pastor to add our own Franciscan motto upon the facing arch: Deus Meus et Omnia. The words, “my God and my all” have been the hallmark of our Order for more than 800 years. What is the old expression? “He who hesitates…” Sadly, the scaffolding came down and the moment passed.
Since then, parishioners have asked us if we would consider some appropriate project that was uniquely Franciscan in character to say, “today – this is who we are! – we are a Franciscan parish.” One of the challenges is to honor the legacy of the parish and the grand church. Part of that legacy has been the addition of many statues, devotionals, etc. such that are not many degrees of freedom for additions or changes that do not disturb the cohesiveness of the interior and the flow of the original design. As a thought experiment, think about adding something new to the interior of the church…where would you put it without disturbing the integral nature and beauty of the sanctuary?
As custodians of the church, we Franciscans take the guardianship of beauty as a sacred task. It is an idea that holds great weight in the Franciscan tradition among friars such as St. Bonaventure, Bl. John Duns Scotus, and St. Francis himself. Someone once asked me why it took so long to address the sound system problems in the church. Debt, mission, and money were basic reasons, but even when we reached the point when we could undertake the project, guardianship of beauty was a critical element. We did not undertake the project until we came up with a design that, as best as could be done, integrated the major speakers into the church design in a way that makes them mostly not noticeable. Once in a while, someone will ask me where the sound comes from – and then I know we have done well.
Adding a key “Franciscan element” inside the church was pratically a non-starter. But if inside the church was not an option…what about outside the church? In 2014 when we renovated the front steps and entry plaza of the church, we kept that in mind. For several years there was a spot on the Twigg Street side of the church that was left unoccupied – intentionally so. We always had a vague idea of something uniquely Franciscan occupying the spot.
All good things come to those who wait. In the spring of 2017, I was approached by a parishioner who wanted to become more involved in the parish. We arranged to meet one day at the parish office to explore her interests. Francesca Bacci was a professor of art history at the University of Tampa – and she had an expertise in medieval art by a range of artists, all of whom also had works that were quite notable in the Franciscan world. My first thought was a summer course on the works of Giotto di Bondone, whose works adorn the Franciscan churches of Assisi and Florence
While chatting about the amazing art in Assisi and Florence, the conversation turned to San Damiano, Italy. Dr. Bacci asked if I remembered the statue of Francis at San Damiano. Anyone who has been to San Damiano knows the work showing St. Francis in contemplation overlooking the plains below Assisi. The artist was Dr. Bacci’s father, Fiorenzo Bacci! During the next several weeks I was able to review a full portfolio of Bacci’s works. His works are amazing – both his religious and secular works – and are displayed from Italy to Australia.
We had found the artist, but now we needed to think about some possibilities for the story that would be told in the art. There are lots of things that can be said about St. Francis and his life. There are many things for which the Franciscans are known. But I continued to return to the question of how has the presence of the Franciscans changed the parish and its people. When we ask long-time parishioners, new parishioners, and visitors alike, about their experience of the parish, a theme quickly emerges in the words used to describe their experience: welcoming, inclusive, hospitable, friendly, warm, open, and more. They give testimony that the Franciscans have built a sense of belonging whose identity is to reach out and draw in quite different people to build one community. One community where hospitality, healing, hope, and holiness are values that are lived. It seemed to me the story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio was a story that gave witness to the parish and spoke to the role still to be played with in our local community.
And in December 2018 our statue of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio came to be. See more on how the Wolf of Gubbio came to be on pages 4 and 5 of our parish bulletin for August 16th which can be found here.