My latest commission
Life-size statue of Saint Dymphna
7th century Irish martyr saint.
Carved in tropical cedar. Commissioned by Father Mark O’Donnell for Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in New London Connecticut.
in which I describe the life of the saint and the process of carving the statue
How did this statue come about?
Excerpts of a Message to his parishioners from Father Mark O’Donnell,
Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Dymphna, a saint for the ages
When I first arrived at St. Joseph Parish almost 10 years ago, I was approached by three parishioners who asked me, “Father who is the patron saint for those afflicted with nervous, mental and emotional illness?” Without pausing I said, “Saint Dymphna”. After I told them about her story, they told me that they would love to have a statue of her in the sanctuary because every family has been affected by mental and emotional illness. I said I would try to get a statue of her so that we could pray for her intercession and for healing for all those who suffer.
Well, it is almost 10 years later and the need for St. Dymphna’s help could not be more urgent in the world we live in. The pandemic with Covid 19 has mentally and emotionally taken a toll on everyone’s health and well-being. It has tragically taken too many lives through the disease itself, and the lives of those who are addicted to drugs and through some who desperately turned to suicide because they felt isolated and dehumanized.
When Neil Hartung, a wonderful parishioner, died unexpectedly on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2019, I met his brother Vonn Hartung who is a renowned artist in Puerto Rico. Neil always spoke fondly of his brother and with fraternal love. I spoke with Vonn and proposed he begin to do some research on the history of this great saint. He became enthralled with her courageous life and martyrdom. In every detail he researched her life and we agreed that a statue was indeed needed here in New London for everyone to pray for her intercession. I started to share this news with the people that originally approached me 10 years ago and they were completely on board. Slowly the word has spread that St. Dymphna was being created for St. Joseph Church in the St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Community.
I commissioned Vonn Hartung to artistically bring this great saint to life.
He started with tropical cedar and glued the wood together in a solid block. Slowly he has been carving and forming the block of wood into a five-foot statue of St. Dymphna… we give thanks to God for this wonderful saint for the ages, especially for today. We hope St. Dymphna will arrive by September first of this year…Fr. Mark
“According to Catholic and Orthodox tradition, Dymphna was born in Ireland in the 7th century. Her father Damon was a petty king, her mother a devout Christian.
When Dymphna was 14 years old, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Shortly thereafter, her mother died. Damon had loved his wife deeply, and in the aftermath of her death his mental health sharply deteriorated. Eventually the king’s counsellors pressed him to remarry. Damon agreed, but only on the condition that his bride would be as beautiful as his deceased wife. After searching fruitlessly, Damon began to desire his daughter because of her strong resemblance to her mother.
When Dymphna learned of her father’s intentions, she swore to uphold her vows and fled his court along with her confessor Father Gerebernus, two trusted servants, and the king’s fool. Together they sailed towards the continent, eventually landing in what is present-day Belgium, where they took refuge in the town of Geel.
Her father tracks her down!
One tradition states that once settled in Geel, Dymphna built a hospice for the poor and sick of the region. However, it was through her wealth that her father would eventually ascertain her whereabouts, as some of the coins used enabled her father to trace them to Belgium. Damon sent his agents to pursue his daughter and her companions. When their hiding place was discovered, he travelled to Geel to recover his daughter. He ordered his soldiers to kill Gerebernus and tried to force Dymphna to return with him to Ireland, but she resisted. Furious, Damon drew his sword and struck off his daughter’s head. She was said to have been 15 years old when she died.
After Dymphna and Gerebernus were killed, the residents of Geel buried them in a nearby cave. Years later, they decided to move the remains to a more suitable location. Some of her remains are at the shrine to Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio, United States.
The most outstanding miracle is one that began in the thirteenth century and continues to this day.
In 1349 a church honoring St. Dymphna was built in Geel. By 1480, so many pilgrims were coming from all over Europe, seeking treatment for psychiatric disorders that the church housing for them was expanded. Soon the sanctuary for those considered “mad” was again full to overflowing, and the townspeople began taking them into their own homes.
Thus began a tradition for the ongoing care of those with psychiatric conditions that has endured for over 500 years and is still studied and admired today. Patients were, and still are, taken into the homes of Geel’s inhabitants. Never called patients, they are called boarders, and are treated as ordinary and useful members of the town. They are treated as members of the host family. They work, most often in menial labor, and in return, they become part of the community. Some stay a few months, some decades, some for their entire lives. At its peak in the 1930s, over 4,000 ‘boarders’ were housed with the town’s inhabitants.”
St. Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety.
Her Feast Day is May 15
Prayer to Saint Dymphna
Lord, our God, you graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness
of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders.
She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.
Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr,
relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray.
(Mention those for whom you wish to pray).
We beg you, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf.
Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings
and resignation to your divine will.
Please fill them with hope and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.
We ask this through Christ our Lord who suffered agony in the garden. Amen