The replica of the founder of the Jesuits glints golden as it faces the morning sun. He towers above his landscaped surroundings, leaning slightly forward with a stride that seems full of purpose. Cloaked in a robe with a sign of the cross on his collar, his left hand holding a book, he holds his right hand aloft, commanding attention to something important he’s about to say. His bearded face is serious, wise and kind.
The statue, donated by Bernard Downey, class of 1949, and his wife, Jean Ann, was cast by the Demetz Art Studio of Ortisei, Italy. The Downeys ordered it at the same time they ordered the St. Francis of Assisi statue that now stands behind the McDonald Library.
Mrs. Downey says that during the dedication of the Dance of Tears sculpture in the library sculpture garden, they decided a St. Francis statue would look good there, too. She says President Michael J. Graham asked if they had ever seen a statue of St. Ignatius.
“We said, ‘Would you like one?’ and he said it would be nice,” says Mrs. Downey. “Demetz did the research.”
St. Ignatius and St. Francis arrived together in November 2000, but St. Ignatius waited in storage for a decision by the art committee as to where it would be located, says Jim Jackson, director of development. Construction of the Gallagher Student Center and other renovations held up the decision for awhile, but on Dec.19, the statue was placed on the brick base in a very visible area of the academic mall.
A plaque will be added that will identify the statue’s namesake. Mrs. Downey says her family jokingly calls it, “St. Ignatius on the Move.” It is valued at about $23,000, she says.
The statue is an original casting, called a full-round bronze, Jackson says. The Demetz studio, which has been a family business for several generations, specializes in the art of crafting religious figures, mostly in wood but also marble and bronze. Its web site highlights the recent completion of the largest ‘Risen Jesus’ ever made at 27 feet tall.
“The Downey’s are blessed with great financial resources and are very generous people,” Jackson says. “They also renovated the Mary statue in front of Edgecliff hall on the hill. There was no sitting area and it was in bad condition, and they paid for getting it all renovated. We put in cement steps and leveled it out and put in semi-circular brick pavers and benches.
“They love the spiritual part of having those things on campus and they continue to do things for us. They’re very good people.”
Mrs. Downey says her family likes to donate Demetz statues to Xavier because of their beauty. “They do such beautiful work. We give most of them away. We give them to Xavier because Xavier was very good to us and we would just like to return something.”
All 12 of the Downey children attended Xavier, and all but two of them graduated from here. The Downeys live in Chicago.