By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published December 7, 2006
Approximately 150 people, accompanied by pets of all sorts, gathered Nov. 19 on the mall at Transfiguration Church for the dedication of the Marietta parish’s new St. Francis Welcoming Prayer Garden and for a blessing of pets.
The children’s choir, under the guidance of Patricia Fointno-Dawson, director of liturgy, opened the dedication by leading the congregation in singing the gathering song, “Sing Out, Earth and Skies.” Msgr. Patrick Bishop, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration and proud owner of five basset hounds, greeted those on hand for the special occasion.
Parishioners Dale Molnar and Dr. Jay Brunette had the honor of unveiling the garden’s centerpiece, a 40-inch, bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi. With his arms extended and the palms of his hands facing upward as a symbolic welcome to all of God’s creation, St. Francis stands between a bronze basset hound on his right and two bronze larks on his left. According to Molnar, an ecclesiastic artist who headed up the project, the basset hound represents unconditional love.
Regarding the larks Molnar said, “St. Francis had a particular fondness for the song of the larks and their hoods reminded him of monks. The birds are bobbing one wing to each other, a gesture of greeting for a gathering flock.”
In front of the St. Francis statue is a fox presenting his neck to the rabbit. Molnar said it is a canine gesture of non-aggression. Next to the fox is a hare reaching out to the fox.
“This tableau was conceived to emphasize atonement and reconciliation, themes that are a prelude to our gathering as a community,” Molnar explained.
Msgr. Bishop and Molnar, who has done a number of art projects for the parish in the past, had been toying with the idea of a prayer garden with a fountain for years. Last May Msgr. Bishop presented a preliminary drawing of the St. Francis Welcoming Prayer Garden to the congregation at all the Masses, sought their input, and asked for donations. In less than two weeks enough money was raised to begin construction. From this point on Molnar was given creative freedom to conduct his work; consequently, the make-up of the garden and St. Francis’ supporting cast of animals were all Molnar’s doing.
Molnar was influenced a bit by Msgr. Bishop’s basset hounds, but Msgr. Bishop called it “a matter of simple destiny.” As the story goes, Msgr. Bishop’s first basset hound, Temperance, used to greet all the visitors to the rectory, which also doubled as the parish office at that time. Temperance took a great liking to Molnar. When he would come to the office, she would follow him until he sat down. Then, she would sit on his feet and remain there until he left. Apparently this was an affectionate gesture she reserved solely for Molnar.
The only request Msgr. Bishop made for the garden was a “generic” basset hound, but little did he know what Molnar had in store.
“When the piece was completed Dale’s wife, Patricia, asked me if I would like a preview. When I opened the door of the car, there sat Temperance—he had captured her likeness perfectly—especially her eyes. It was quite an emotional and startling moment for me. I found myself gently petting a bronzed dog,” Msgr. Bishop said.
The project brought together two parishioners, Molnar and Brunette, with different backgrounds, but similar interests. Brunette is an orthopaedic surgeon by profession, but landscaping is a serious hobby for him. How serious? Well, he possesses his very own Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader, along with other equipment for hauling and delivering materials, and he built a huge waterfall on his property in Bartow County.
“When I heard about the project at Transfiguration I wanted to be involved, especially since I had experience,” Brunette said. “At the time I did not know Dale, but I heard that he would be doing the project. I simply called Dale and asked him if he wanted some help with the project. I explained to him that I had experience in building water features.”
The beautiful rocks and boulders that occupy the prayer garden came from Brunette’s property. Brunette and Molnar spent days walking the woods looking for the right “hardscape material.” Once the right rocks were identified, Brunette loaded them onto pallets and had them trucked to the church.
“Each rock was chosen for its form, color, and the moss and lichens muting the surface. With attention to detail, large boulders were adjusted inches this way and that to achieve an exact orientation,” Molnar said. “The effect is a garden that has a natural, aged appearance.”
Following the unveiling, Msgr. Bishop conducted a blessing and incensing of the garden. Following a reading of the creation story from the Book of Genesis, he walked around the grounds blessing all the animals.
Msgr. Bishop summed up his feelings for the garden by saying, “The garden is an invitation to enter the church at peace with God, His people, and creation so that our spirits can be opened to the beauty and mystery of Mass we are about to celebrate. It is also becoming a place where people are pausing to just watch the falling water and take in the beauty of the images as a distraction for a moment from the challenges and harshness that we can often find in our life. Your soul just sort of sighs and relaxes.”