The origin of The Way to Wisdom statue

In the fall of 2015, Dr. Kevin Lerner was invited to a conference where he would be a member of an awards panel along with a number of other professors from across the country. One in particular was a professor from Niagara University. Not knowing a lot about the school, Dr. Lerner decided to do some research on the college, specifically by visiting the university’s Wikipedia Page.

In a photo on the website, Dr. Lerner discovered that Niagara University had the same exact statue that Marist College has in front of its chapel; a statue of a priest talking to a young man and woman. “I was really confused when I saw their campus had the same statue as ours,” said Lerner. “Except, they claimed that it was a different priest and the girl’s sweatshirt said ‘Niagara’ on it instead of ‘Marist.’ That’s what made me very curious about the origin of this statue.’”

The Way to Wisdom statue outside the James A. Cannavino Library. Original photo by Dylan Gordon

The Way to Wisdom statue outside the James A. Cannavino Library.
Original photo by Dylan Gordon

“The statue was actually originally cast by a nun. She actually cast it several times, so several schools have it. It’s not uncommon to see it at other schools across the country,” said Justin Butwell, the Director of Physical Plant at Marist College, “What that artist would do was change the face of the priest and the sweatshirt on the student to personalize the college.”

The statue was not specifically created for Marist College; it was simply modified by the artist so as to fit the specifications that the Marist brothers wanted for this statue. The interesting part about the statue’s creator is that no one actually knows the name of the nun. Justin Butwell said, “No one knows, and no one I have talked to has been able to dig up the name of this artist, so that still remains a mystery to this day.”

Brother Paul Ambrose. Courtesy of Marist College Archives

Brother Paul Ambrose.
Courtesy of Marist College Archives

Marist came by this simple statue when the president of Marist College at the time, Brother Paul Ambrose, decided that he wanted to make what he deemed a “Heritage Plaza” in the area right outside of the library. Brother Paul Ambrose decided to seek out the creator of this statue and commissioned for one to be made for Marist and to be put on the new sitting wall in front of the library.

“Brother Paul had known about this statue that a nun had produced,” said Justin Butwell. “He really liked that statue. He thought it had a good connection to us and the school and he advocated for the purchase of said state, which the school did.”

The Way to Wisdom plaque next to the statue. Original photo by Dylan Gordon

The Way to Wisdom plaque next to the statue.
Original photo by Dylan Gordon

After finally having the statue made and purchased, it was installed around the year 2000, the same year that construction on the James A. Cannavino Library was completed. The statue, now called The Way to Wisdom symbolizes the arrival of the Marist Brothers into the Hudson Valley. It also symbolizes the canonization of Saint Marcellin Champagnat in 1999.

Many people walk past The Way to Wisdom every day at Marist College and admire it, but few know of how and why the statue got there.

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One thought on “The origin of The Way to Wisdom statue

  1. Brother Paul Ambrose was not president of Marist College at that time. Dennis Murray was. President Murray agreed with Brother Paul’s request. The site was chosen to link two aspects of wisdom: faith (the Chapel) and reason (the Library).

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