Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mystery man in white

The mysterious pope statue on the 5th Floor of the
Humanities Building at Chalon.
WE CONSIDER IT PART OF OUR solemn duty as archivist to seek out and reveal historic mysteries about our almost 90-year-old Mount. (Yes, we do have the best job on either campus.)

There are plenty of mysteries to go around, so for today's Throwback Thursday, we'll uncover a mysterious person who factors strongly in Mount history and the history of our founding Sisters.

We don't get up to the 5th Floor of the Humanities Building very often, where Music, Religious Studies and History have classrooms and offices.  On the couple of occasions we've been there, though, we've wondered about that life-size marble bust at the north end of the hall. Given the tassels and finery wrought in cold, white marble he's obviously a pope -- but which one, of the 260-plus men who have sat in the Chair of St. Peter?

The little plaque on the pedestal is all but unreadable, but with a little squinting and some digital photography, we are able to reveal our mystery man: Pope Pius IX,  No. 255 on the papal roster.

How did we end up with a bust of Pius IX? Was he a random choice?

Bl. Pius IX holy card.
Pius IX enjoyed one of the longest papacies in history, reigning from 1846 to 1878. On his watch, the Papal States ceased to exist as Italy became a sovereign country,  and it was Pius IX who opened the First Vatican Council, setting the stage for broad reforms almost a hundred years later at Vatican II.

But his true significance to the Mount was his relationship to the Sisters of St. Joseph. In May, 1877, Pope Pius IX gave final approval to the constitution of the fast-growing Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, establishing our founding order as a congregation of "pontifical right" and unifying various communities across the United States under a motherhouse in Carondelet, Missouri, now St. Louis. The rest is history, and the L.A. Province of the CSJs went on to found the Mount in 1925.

Okay, so we've established the connection. How did the Mount end up with a carved chunk of fine Italian marble?  Enter a famous Hollywood composer.

Film star Irene Dunne, left, with benefactor Jimmy
McHugh, Sister Rebecca Doan, CSJ, president,
and  Mrs. Rhiad Gholi of the gala committee.
Jimmy McHugh wrote more than 500 songs for some of the big vocal stars of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. Along with film star Irene Dunne, McHugh was also honorary chairman of a big gala held by the Mount in 1964 to raise money for the new Humanities Building and other rebuilding projects in the wake of the 1961 Bel Air Fire.

The (nearly unreadable) plaque on the statue reads "Gift of Jimmy McHugh." According to the February 1, 1962, edition of the View, McHugh made the gift on January 17 of that year in ceremonies held in the library at Chalon.  When the Humanities Building was completed in 1965, the statue was moved to its current privileged position on a specially built plinth integrated into the stone composite flooring of the 5th Floor.

The statue is the work of a neoclassical Italian sculptor, Pietro Tenerani, 1789-1869, who typically carved in the pure white marble of his native Carrara. Religious subjects and famous people of the day make up the body of his works, which are held by museums all over the world. The Mount's statue, executed in 1848 near the beginning of Pius IX's pontificate, is one of several Tenerani did of this influential pope. The statue was blessed by Pius IX himself.

How many Mount students have
planted a kiss on these marble
lips in the last 50 years?
Pius XI's cause for sainthood opened in 1907, and he was beatified in 2000 by Pope John Paul II. But then again, is anything sacred where college students are concerned? If you look closely at the statue's lips, they're slightly stained a light brown, as is the nose.

We can imagine two or three generations of Mount students kissing Bl. Pius IX on the lips or tweaking his nose, perhaps for good luck before a recital or exam. That strikes us as an excellent tradition and one worthy of a historic women's university.

This coming February 7 will be Blessed Pius IX's feast day and the 137th anniversary of his death in 1878. So let's give him a kiss, or a pat on the head, or just say "thanks" for watching over for the Mount for the last 50 years.

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