The Restless Viking: Dine with Jesus in Brighton, Michigan

This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally published on the Restless Viking website on February 1, 2022.

I was curious to see who was sitting at the top of the hill at a Catholic cemetery in Brighton, Michigan. The figure was a person of about my height. There were seats surrounding a large table. As I approached the blue tarp informed me that this was a piece of art being protected from the elements. “Dine With Jesus” created an inviting, peaceful place for contemplation.

Twelve spaces surround the eleven foot cement table where a life-sized bronze Jesus breaks bread.

My First Viewing

Crusty snow crunched under my boots. The early morning light cast quiet gray shadows. I felt serene as I approached Jesus who was breaking bread. The space was welcoming and if it had been warmer I would have sat and joined this well known individual. Instead, I circled the area studying this piece.

Frost had settled in the nooks of Jesus’s hair and clothing.

This statue allowed me to step into Leonardo DiVinci’s masterpiece painting, “The Last Supper.” I appreciate life-sized art pieces as they have given me the sense of being a part of the action.

Even with the table and seats covered for the winter, the sculpture of Jesus was ready to share His bread.

I was intrigued by the sculpture and the story behind it. How did the church decide to have this installation? Who would have paid for the monument? I was looking forward to doing some research once I arrived at home after visiting my eastern Michigan relatives: Aunt Lou, Stephanie and my daughter, Charlotte. I walked down a paved pathway to my Jeep Renegade.

Departing Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church

As I was pulling out of the parking lot at Holy Spirit Church, I caught site of this beggar statue next to the entrance. I turned my car around and hopped out. I had to get an up-close look-see!

This statue, “When I Was Hungry and Thirsty,” caught my eye.

This full sized human hand reached toward me from his frost covered cloak. His head bent downward as if he was feeling shame for being needy. It was compelling. Was that a hole in his hand? I pondered. Is he representing Jesus? I gazed at him for some time, recalling what a teaching colleague, Cathy Wood, had once said, “Most of us are just a few paychecks away from poverty.”

I remembered this clearly from the particular Friday night in December of 1991 at the start of my elementary teaching career. I had returned to my classroom to do some lesson planning for the upcoming week when I heard noises next door. I stepped inside Cathy’s first grade room to witness her wrapping holiday gifts for one of her student’s families. She was planning on secretly leaving them on their porch. Her words came back to me as I stood next to this Timothy Schmalz statue. “Most of us are just a few paychecks away from poverty.”

This realization of truth in Cathy’s words rested heavily on my heart. Through my parenting, teaching and now into my third year of retirement, I have made generosity one of my character traits. This statue brought those feelings and memories to the surface again. Powerful!

Timothy Schmalz’s Work

It turns out that there’s another casting of “When I Was Hungry and Thirsty” on display at Holy Trinity’s chapel in Washington D.C. Cardinal Wilton Gregory had blessed the statue in October 2021. He commented to the Catholic Standard, “When we encounter the poor, we encounter Christ himself.”

How did these stunning sculptures find their way to Brighton? What other sculptures has Timothy Schmalz created? I needed to find out the story! I wondered how far his work had reached.

St. Peter’s Square – Vatican

Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian artist, has created thought provoking sculptures displayed around the globe! His “Angels Unwares” sculpture reveals the story of migration. Notice the angel wings coming from the center. This piece is on display in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

Vatican City is in the middle of Rome, Italy. The leader of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis, honors many visitors, the relics and the locations of historical moments in this region.

“Angels Unwares” was recently featured in The National Catholic Reporter in their December 28, 2021 issue. Q.R. codes are now being included on artwork around the Holy City so people can have access to information about the pieces. Photo Credit: The National Catholic Reporter

“Migration today is a reality to which we cannot close our eyes,” Pope Francis had said when interviewed by The National Catholic Reporter. “It is a social scandal of humanity.”

This boat-sized bronze piece was placed two years ago to bring attention to “showing hospitality to strangers as some have entertained angels unawares.” as translated from the Book of Hebrews 13:2.

Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church, Brighton, Michigan

I wanted to know how this famous artist had been connected with Holy Spirit church. So, I called the office rectory and spoke with Andrea. She was gracious and offered to email articles from Catholic magazines about “Dine With Jesus.” In 2012 Holy Spirit Roman Catholic church in Brighton, Michigan had installed the piece “Dine with Jesus.” I was looking forward to printing off the articles and reading the ‘behind the curtain’ tale.

As we chatted on the phone, Andrea shared that tour buses stop by the church grounds from time to time. Most recently, a bus load of senior citizens from Virginia made the trek to Holy Spirit Church after spending time in Frankenmuth.

Andrea explained that Timothy Schmalz has other pieces in the area. At Wixom’s Catholic Central High School a large sculpture of Jesus surrounded by saints is placed outdoors on campus. Another sits in the main entryway at St. Catherine of Siena Academy, a private school for girls.

“The Last Supper” and “Dine With Jesus”

The Lifestyle article from August 2012 featured the inspiration for Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture “Dine With Jesus.” In nearby Royal Oak “The Last Supper” statue had been constructed by Timothy Schmalz and was tucked in a grotto near the National Shine of Little Flower Catholic Church. John Hoolehan, the shrine’s director, said “The Last Supper” had been placed in 2006.

When Janet Duff, a member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, saw Jesus breaking bread at a large granite table surrounded by twelve seats, she was in awe and thought, “We have to have that at Holy Spirit.”

“The Last Supper” National Shrine of the Little Flower Facebook Page Photo: BreeAnna Faye Klein January 2021

The Catholic Times article told the story, too. The parishioner, Janet Duff, encountered “The Last Supper” sculpture at the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak. She was captivated. Janet met with Father John Rocus, the pastor at Holy Spirit, about adding the scene to their “Serenity Court.” Father Joh Rocus agreed.

Later when Timonthy Schmalz, the sculptor, was introduced to the setting where his art would be placed, he said it was, “absolutely spectacular.” Janet Duff and Paul Wonsack coordinated the planning and fundraising for the “Dine with Jesus” sculpture. It was installed on September 16, 2012 with a cement table and twelve cement stools. Each one has a carving of a dove, which is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Catholic Central High School

Armed with an address, I headed to Catholic Central High School in Wixom. I was curious to see other pieces by Timothy Schmalz. On Monday, January 17th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I rolled into an empty parking lot. Off to the side was a statue of Jesus hugging a soldier.

Timothy Schmalz’s name was embedded in the soldier’s fatigues.

Walking around this sculpture in the brisk early morning, I could feel this poignant embrace. Emotions rose into my throat. I orbited the statue again. My husband’s stories of his army days flooded my mind. Chuck had served in the early 1990’s. These powerful tales are his alone to tell, but this model captured the anguish he had felt.

Next, I began to search for the outdoor installment that Andrea had mentioned. Just passed the parking lot, as the roadway turned, there stood Jesus with his arms outstretched. He appeared to be encircled by a wreath. As I neared the statue I could easily see that the ring was actually a crowd of saints enveloped in Jesus’ guidance. As I approached I marveled at the detail of each saint honored in this arc.

I believe art is all around us bringing our feelings to the surface. Being aware and embracing our feelings, from the little moments in nature to perceiving large sculptures created by talented people, is a key to capturing life at its finest. Find yourself in the pursuit of beauty.

“Dine With Jesus” is set behind the church, up on the hill overlooking the cemetery. 

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