St. Francis Sculpture by Griffis Family Artists Adorning Hilbert Campus

Release Date:
September 22, 2003
Matt Heidt,
HAMBURG, N.Y. – A new 50-foot long wrought iron sculpture at Hilbert College honoring the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and the last piece renowned local artist Mark Griffis worked on with his father, the late Larry Griffis Jr., will be dedicated Oct. 4 at the college.

The dedication and a blessing by the Rev. Dr. Bernard Olszewski, Hilbert vice president for academic affairs, will take place at 4:45 p.m. at the sculpture site in front of Franciscan Hall. It will follow a 4 p.m. Mass being held as part of the college’s annual St. Francis Week and Fall Fest celebrations. Members of the Hilbert community, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, board of trustees and members of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph (FSSJ), the college’s founding congregation, are expected to be in attendance.

St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment, founded the Franciscan order, which is the spiritual foundation of the FSSJ. Given the college’s heritage, said Hilbert President Sister Edmunette Paczesny, Ph.D., it was only fitting to have an outward symbol of St. Francis placed on campus.

"We wanted to find a way to make the Franciscan philosophy and spirit more visible at Hilbert. The sculpture captures this in a way visually and artistically that will be remembered by the Hilbert community and visitors to campus now and in the future," she said.

Two and a half years in the making, the sculpture is divided into three 8-foot panels. Drawing on the life of the saint, the first panel shows St. Francis meeting a leper, an incident he considered a turning point in his life; St. Francis with the first Franciscan woman, St. Clare; and St. Francis and the stigmata on Mt. Alvernia.

Shown on the second panel are Mother Colette Hilbert, foundress of the FSSJ, St. Francis, and a representation of the FSSJ in contemporary dress.

The final panel depicts the present and future of Hilbert, including students, faculty, staff and others in the college community who are working to preserve the Franciscan spirit at Hilbert.

Designed by Larry Griffis, the sculpture was the last piece done with his son, Mark, who did the hands-on work to create the one-of-a-kind sculpture.

"One of the most unique elements of the piece is the depiction of St. Francis releasing a bird in one panel and the bird is then seen in another panel flying over the people of Hilbert illustrated in the sculpture. You see a businessman, an individual in a wheelchair, a family, a couple – all individuals in the lay community who are in some way connected to the college and its Franciscan heritage. This relationship is then carried over to another panel showing the Franciscan sisters and St. Francis himself," said Mark Griffis.

When creating the piece, wrought iron was used "because the material lends itself to drawing," an important element to illustrating details in the sculpture, explained Griffis.

This is the second piece Griffis has created for Hilbert, having previously done a replica of the San Damiano crucifix, which now hangs in the Franciscan Hall atrium.

Facing a small pond located in front of Franciscan Hall, the sculpture is easily visible at the front of the campus. Sister Edmunette pointed out the "sculpture’s placement in this type of peaceful setting gives the Hilbert community and visitors an opportunity for reflection. We hope people who see the sculpture will look at the depictions and want to learn more about its relevance to the college."

Hilbert College, located in suburban Hamburg, N.Y., south of Buffalo, is a private four-year college founded in 1957 in the Catholic Franciscan tradition. With nearly 1,100 students, Hilbert is a dynamic Western New York college that offers career-focused majors, including one of the top criminal justice programs in the region, and more than 50 minors and concentrations. The college’s engaging, student-centered campus community offers numerous leadership, internship, and service learning opportunities from which students launch successful careers while making positive changes in their communities. The Hilbert Blueprint promotes a well-rounded student experience over four years – starting with the Foundations Seminar in the freshman year, followed by Sophomore Service, Junior Symposium, and culminating with the Senior Capstone. Hilbert has expanded its academic offerings with the college’s first graduate programs and new Accelerated Degree Programs geared to adult learners.