She stands high atop a brawny granite pedestal, her eyes fixed, her countenance resolute, her stride ever forward. Her right hand clutches her wind-blown cape as her left hand clutches her Bible. Ribbons drawn snugly beneath her chin secure her cap. Her right foot, encased in a thick boot, steps atop a substantial rock inscribed with the Seton Hall motto: Hazard Zet Forward.
The eight-foot bronze statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton — founder of the Sisters of Charity, the first American-born saint, and the University’s namesake — can be seen from almost anywhere on the University Green. It’s a fitting location, as for nearly two decades since its installation, the statue of Mother Seton has occupied a rarefied space at the epicenter of the Seton Hall community. “This statue sort of spoke to me,” says Maureen Byrnes, a clinical assistant nursing professor. “It’s got a spiritual quality to it.”
To Monsignor Robert Wister, who served on the committee that planned the statue, it’s critical that Mother Seton is depicted in full stride. Such a posture embodies the Seton Hall motto, a combination of Norman French and archaic English that means to forge ahead at whatever risk. In conversations with the sculptor, Sister Margaret Beaudette, the planning committee made clear that it wanted Mother Seton in motion.
“We didn’t want a frozen figure standing,” Monsignor Wister says. “She did a wonderful job with that. There’s wind billowing her cape. She’s moving. It’s one of the things that makes it unique among all the Mother Seton statues I’ve seen.”
So what’s the statue mean to Monsignor Wister? “To me it’s a symbol of heritage and Catholic education and its mission to continue that,” he says. “And that’s why I like the motion of it — in other words, it doesn’t stand still.”
Sister Margaret Beaudette produced more than 60 major sculptures of religious figures during a long and lauded career as a teacher and artist.
After she left teaching in 1987, Sister Margaret devoted the last 30 years of her life to her own creations, working out of the DePaul Sculpture Studio on the campus of The College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, her alma mater. Her first major commission, in 1979, a five-foot bronze of St. Paul the Apostle, is installed at St. Paul’s Church in New York City.
Dozens of commissions followed, including a life-size bronze statue of St. Bernadette, completed in 1997 and displayed in front of the library in Lourdes, France. Among the testimonials on Sister Margaret’s website is a quote from Jean-Luc Delchambre, a tour guide in Lourdes: “This American work of art has become a favorite site of the pilgrims who visit Lourdes. The statue of St. Bernadette is now part of the village’s daily tours. Notice that her hand is never empty! Pilgrims leave all sorts of ‘gifts’ with her.”
Today Sister Margaret’s work can be seen in churches, shrines, and hospitals across the United States and in Canada, Bermuda, Haiti, and South Korea. They range from a 12-inch bonded bronze statuette of St. John the Baptist to a 9-foot-tall granite statue of Mother Seton, installed at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. For Sister Margaret, Mother Seton was a favorite subject — her major works include no fewer than 11 depictions of the first American-born saint.
Sister Margaret entered the Sisters of Charity of New York in February 1947, a month shy of her 19th birthday. She died in March 2017 at age 89. In an obituary posted on The Sisters of Charity of New York website, Sister Margaret explains the motivation behind her art.
“My sculpture,” she said, “was the best way I could express that God, ever compassionate and kind, is incarnated in the figures I sculpt.”
For the late Monsignor Kevin Hanbury ’68/M.Div.’75/Ed.S.’79/Ed.D.’85, the Mother Seton statue was something of a love song to his parents. In the late 1990s, following the death of Raymond and Rose Ann Hanbury, Monsignor Hanbury wanted to remember his parents with a lasting memorial. In discussions with University officials, it was determined that Monsignor Hanbury would provide the funding for a public statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton.
Monsignor Hanbury spent 35 years on the Seton Hall campus, last serving as associate dean at the College of Education and Human Services. In 2006 Archbishop John J. Myers appointed him the vicar for education and superintendent of schools in the Newark Archdiocese.
Dr. Ray Hanbury, chief psychologist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., says his brother loved his 40 years in the priesthood and was especially committed to providing a Catholic education for young people. When he was appointed superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, Ray Hanbury says, his brother made a promise to himself: “He was going to visit every single Catholic elementary, middle, and high school in the diocese his first year. And he did.”
Ray Hanbury remembers attending the dedication of the Mother Seton statue at a Charter Day ceremony in 1998 with his wife, Pat, and their family. They watched as Monsignor Hanbury, together with Monsignor Robert T. Sheeran ’67, then the president of Seton Hall, collaborated in the formal unveiling.
“This statue means an awful lot to me,” Monsignor Hanbury said that day. “My parents taught me my faith. After we are long gone, not only will Seton Hall live on, but so will my parents.”
Memories of Mother Seton
Maura Kolkmeyer ’12
“I love how she is stepping and leaning forward, into challenge and the unknown, carving her own path. Since starting my business, I am often back on campus working with students and faculty. I often sit on the bench next to the statue. I feel a special connection to her, as my birthday is her feast day. Knowing her journey, defying what was expected of her to educate and create a new system of education to help build the futures of children, I look up at her statue … and am inspired to keep pushing forward.”
Melissa Taylor Bahrs, M.A. ’09
“My father graduated from Seton Hall; my stepson graduated from Seton Hall, and I graduated from Seton Hall. I had a separate respect and love for Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, and then got to be on the campus seeing this [statue] so often. Her life was a profile in courage.”
Timothy Hester ’99/M.A.T. ’07
“Not long after the statue was erected, the terrible Boland Hall fire happened. I was a seminarian at the time, and at the dedication of the bell tower, our choir (of which I was a member) sang the Regina Coeli. I’ll never forget looking out and seeing that statue and truly feeling comforted by the presence of the strong lady that Elizabeth Seton was and her presence in my life. Tomorrow I begin work as an assistant principal at a school named St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, Texas. Although I am 1,500 miles and many years away from that moment, I still think of the statue and the woman it represents.”
A new statue of Mother Seton, designed by Sister Margaret Beaudette before she died earlier this year, will be given a place of prominence in the welcome center, Bethany Hall, now being constructed on campus.
Written by Christopher Hann