Sculptor Raymond Graf in his studio on Payne Street with his miniature mock-up of the Catherine Spalding statue he is commissioned to create. The statue is planned to be placed near the Cathedral in downtown Louisville and will be the first prominent statue of a woman in Kentucky. 15 Sept 2014 (Photo: David R. Lutman/Special to The CJ)
The Courier-Journal - Written by Joe Gerth
By the end of next spring, the Cathedral of the Assumption will fill a gaping hole in the Louisville public art scene when it dedicates the city’s first public statue honoring a woman who has made an impact here.
The statue will depict Mother Catherine Spalding, co-founder of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, an order of nuns based near Bardstown that built schools, orphanages and hospitals across Kentucky and is now doing it across the world.
"It’s so important for the church to honor women," said Mary Margaret Mulvihill, who is leading the effort to erect the statue. "Women have played a major, major role in the history of Catholicism. … She will be placed in front of church on the plaza to honor not only this incredible pioneer woman, but to honor the women of the church."
Raymond Graf, who has sculpted numerous well-known statues in Louisville, including athletes Pee Wee Reese, Paul Hornung and Pat Day, is being commissioned to cast the bronze statue.
The statue will include Spalding taking children from the Ohio River wharf to refuge at the Cathedral of the Assumption, where she lived for a time.
Graf said the depiction of Spalding, who lived from 1793 to 1858, is based on the only firsthand account of what she looked like doing her work.
"She was coming from the wharf with this infant in her arms, a toddler in her dress and a baby wrapped up in her apron," Graf said. "That was pretty much what it had to be," he said of his design.
Graf beat out three other artists for the job, which he said he expects will take about six months to complete once the cost of the statue is raised. The goal is for $120,000 for the sculpting, installation and providing upkeep.
Since it is unknown exactly how tall Spalding was, Graf said he’s now trying to determine how tall to make the statue, which will be at street level.
"She’ll probably be between 5 feet and 5 feet, 6 inches," he said.
Spalding was born in Maryland and moved with her family to Kentucky as a toddler, according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia. She and two other women founded the order in 1813, and she served for 25 years as the “general superior.”
During that time, she founded a number of schools across the state and moved to Louisville in 1831 to found Presentation Academy. While in Louisville, she also started St. Vincent Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Infirmary, according to the Kentucky Encyclopedia.
Philanthropist Christy Brown, who has talked before about the need for statues depicting important women, has agreed to help pay for the statue. She’s also a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption.
When The Courier-Journal asked in late 2012 who should be immortalized in a statue in Louisville, Brown recommended that Spalding would be the best choice, in part because of the lack of statues honoring women who have played a significant role in Louisville and Kentucky’s past.
In fact, the closest thing to a woman honored by a full-scale statue on public property in Kentucky is Carolina, Gen. John Breckinridge Castleman’s horse.
"This is appalling and we should do something about it," she said.
Mulvihill, also a member of the cathedral and a 1960 graduate of Presentation, said the idea to erect the statue actually began years ago but was sidetracked when the economy collapsed in 2008. When the Rev. Jeffrey S. Nicolas was appointed pastor of the cathedral in 2011, he decided to restart projects that had been set aside for financial reasons, Mulvihill said.
One of those was the statue.
In April, the church’s statue committee had $10,000 on hand, according to the minutes of a Parish Pastoral Council Committee meeting. Mulvihill said the fund has since grown to more than $80,000, almost enough for Graf to begin work.
Brown said Spalding is the perfect choice. “She’s a model of love and compassion and all the things we care about.”
HOW TO HELP
To contribute to the statue campaign, mail a check to the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth Street Louisville, KY 40202. Make sure to put on the check that the money is to be used for the statue.