Edward Gibney, a Saskatchewan seminarian and sculptor, poses near an almost completed statue of Msgr. Roderick Strange in his makeshift studio at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Edward Gibney, a Saskatchewan seminarian and sculptor, poses near an almost completed statue of Msgr. Roderick Strange in his makeshift studio at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.

June 27, 2016
CAROL GLATZ
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

In the small dormitory room that smelled of moist modelling clay, dozens of statues of a laughing Jesus lined wooden shelves against a wall.

The small plaster statuettes showed the Lord reclining on the ground against a rock, his eyes pinched tight and his hand on his chest, which was inflated with a hearty hoot.

"As students become deacons, I give them one," said Edward Gibney, 54, a Canadian seminarian and sculptor from Saskatoon.

"It doesn't say in the Bible, but I believe he laughed," he said, explaining his motivation for the Laughing Jesus motif, adding that the unguarded moment of mirth shows "the human side of Christ."

While the souvenir statuettes were ready to go, Gibney was still putting the finishing touches on a bust of Msgr. Roderick Strange, the former rector of Rome's Pontifical Beda College, a seminary for older men run by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

"I keep saying it's pretty well done," he told Catholic News Service in early June prior to his June 15 ordination to the transitional diaconate.

But he confessed he has a hard time knowing when to put away the tools as he shaved a bit of soft Plasticine from under the eyes and padded the upper lip with a bit more of the dark gray clay.

An old sculpting professor, he said, used to compare finishing an art piece to raising children and realizing, "OK, they're old enough and ready to go out on their own."

It's the same teacher Gibney pays homage to with his mustache. He said he was asked to show up at the professor's retirement party 20-plus years ago pretending to be a long-lost relative of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. He kept the iconic look going when the professor died soon after.

Saskatoon sculptor Edward Gibney gives a statue of a laughing Jesus to fellow seminarians in Rome when they are ordained as deacons.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Saskatoon sculptor Edward Gibney gives a statue of a laughing Jesus to fellow seminarians in Rome when they are ordained as deacons.

So many years spent as a professional sculptor - often working in contemplative solitude and patiently shaping a fluid form from hard stone - gave him insights he believes will be valuable as a priest.

Though a person's soul is not anything like a chunk of clay or rock, caring for "people's eternal life is something that takes time, it takes an understanding of people" and patiently uncovering what they need, he said.

A pastor needs to be creative because there is no "cookie cutter" answer or response valid for everyone and the priest needs to recognize his own limitations.

Prior to entering the seminary, Gibney was active in the Knights of Columbus, serving several years on the Saskatchewan board of directors, including two as state deputy. He also sculpted a bust of Spiritan Father Michael Troy, longtime state chaplain of the Knights in Alberta.

Though he still has another year of studies in Rome before priestly ordination back in Saskatoon, Gibney said he hopes he will be able to practise a bit of his craft at different parishes just as he found a way to continue his artwork during his studies.

STUDIO IN SEMINARY

The Beda College, where he has completed his third year of studies, has been extremely accommodating, Gibney said, letting him use an extra room furnished with a small sink as his makeshift studio.

He repurposed a gutted metal desk frame for his sculpting stand and mounted circles of particle board together for the banding wheel.

In Saskatoon, he produced many works of religious art, including a large granite representation of the baby Jesus, Mary and her aging mother Ann for the St. Ann's senior citizens' home.

SEEING GOD'S WORK

Seeing how God was "working with me in my studio" and recognizing "he's working with you all the time in everything you do" was a key part of his vocational discernment process, he said.

Making art is a form of evangelization, Gibney believes.

When he was finishing the outdoor granite piece for St. Ann's, for example, the sounds of carving and sanding drew people from the community to come out and watch him work.

Questions and conversation followed, he said. "I became the entertainment for about three months. It was lovely."

When he's a priest, he said, he would imagine taking whatever free bit of time he finds to throw on his work jeans and "pound on a piece of granite."

"That does get people's attention."

OPENING THE CHURCH

People then get a better idea of what a priest is, he said. "A priest isn't just that guy who wears the collar and you see him only once a week on Sunday. He is part of the community and he is trying to contribute to the good of the community," Gibney said.

"That's opening the Church," he said, showing that the priest is there to serve everyone in the community. "Catholic or not, they are part of the flock" and Christ, through the priest, is out there with them.