By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published January 21, 2021
ATLANTA—Organizers of the “Angels Unawares” sculpture display at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta are hoping Catholics will invite members of the community at large to see the monument to migration.
The bronze sculpture, created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, is four tons and 20-feet long. Its name derives from the New Testament’s Hebrews 13:2—“Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unawares.”
Angels Unawares depicts more than 140 immigrants from across history densely packed onto a boat with the Holy Family. Among the passengers are Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
“People are welcome to touch the statue,” said Kim Schulman, director of communications for Holy Spirit Church. “The detail is so impressive.”
The Georgia chapter of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums is sponsoring the statue’s visit, which is a second casting of a piece commissioned by Pope Francis. The local display runs through Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Schmalz used photos from the Ellis Island archives to create some of the figures, and modern African refugees were live models for the piece. Also represented in the sculpture are the parents of Cardinal Czerny, Pope Francis’ undersecretary. All faiths are represented, and at the sculpture’s center, angel wings are visible, alluding to the sacredness of all human life.
A time-lapse video was made of the sculpture’s installation on the Upper School Quad. By chance, one of the sponsoring family members found himself driving behind the tractor trailer driver transporting the sculpture in an open crate. Schulman said that all involved—from drivers and crane operators to organizers—were so invested and interested in seeing the sculpture placed.
“It was very moving,” said Schulman about the piece’s arrival on campus. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”
The original casting of “Angels Unawares” was installed in St. Peter’s Square and unveiled by Pope Francis on Sept. 29, 2019, the 105th observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It highlights the church’s teachings on immigration and celebrates the contributions of migrants and refugees.
The replica statue is on a national tour from its permanent home at the Catholic University of America. Its permanent installation will be part of the 2021 World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
While in Atlanta, the sculpture is available for viewing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 2 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Schulman said the sculpture is particularly striking to view at night. Flags representing the nations of the migrants depicted were placed around the base of the sculpture.
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., blessed the sculpture on Jan. 12.
Msgr. Edward J. Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Church, noted that the school and parish have diverse ethnic groups represented.
“When we built the present church in 1995, the saints depicted in the stained glass windows were selected because they were patrons of the various countries represented in the parish population at the time,” said Msgr. Dillon on the Holy Spirit website. “So, when the opportunity arose to have this sculpture on campus here, I felt it was very appropriate and would continue to emphasize the point that we are a diverse church, but still one church.”