Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.
Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.
Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.
St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.