Nativity Sculpture Installed on Alumni Hall

by Alexander Pierre | Apr 17, 2015

By Jackie Crone, Executive Administrative Assistant, Office of Marketing Communications

A Nebraska connection, a love of religious art, a desire to inspire, and eight tons of brick and mortar are behind the newest addition to Marian University. While new construction on campus has become commonplace, there is nothing common about the installation of the 16’ by 16’ nativity scene brick mural which now adorns the exterior of Alumni Hall. Visible at the Cold Spring Road entrance, this sculpture boldly and proudly announces Marian University’s Catholic and Franciscan identity.

In 1989, President Daniel J. Elsener met Images in Brick founder Jay Tschetter through a mutual friend in his home state of Nebraska where Tschetter was sculpting bricks in a garage. Twenty years later, while planning the interior design of the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences, Marian University commissioned Tschetter for the 14’ by 22’ St. Francis and the Leper mural—and discussions about a future exterior brick sculpture of the nativity scene began.

Designed by Sue Horn and sculpted by Sten Eisentrager and Tschetter, the nativity scene brick mural is now a majestic reality. This sculpture is 48 courses tall. A course is a straight row of 16 foot-long bricks. That’s 768 bricks, which had to be disassembled, one by one, and numbered for drying and firing before being loaded onto special pallets, layered with protective cardboard, and then placed into custom-built crates for the 700- mile commute to Indianapolis.

In the cold and rain of early March, Tschetter reassembled the mural, brick by brick—precisely, yet quickly—to stay ahead of the rapidly drying mortar. “This sculpture is 16 inches deep in places, so the challenge is to tool the joints flush with the changing contours—a delicate and laborious task,” explained the veteran mason, who admits being deeply affected by this awe-inspiring image, which can be attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1223, a deacon named Francis got the idea of recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth to help reveal the humble beginnings of Christ. With the permission of the sovereign pontiff, in a niche in a rock in mountainous Greccio, Italy, he prepared a manger and brought in hay and animals for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. And the rest is history, particularly the history behind Marian University founders, the Sisters St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana.

The Holy Family serves as the perfect visual representation of the values that are the foundation of Marian University, according to President Elsener who explained, “We are more like a family of community learners, focused on faith and service, and Alumni Hall—our campus family room—is a great place for reflection on how each of us can best answer God’s call.”

“We couldn’t help but be affected spiritually as we worked and as we noticed the impact it had on all who saw it. It made us think every day,” said Tschetter, who is pleased with the depth, richness of color, and outdoor location. “Being able to view this from a distance, with the right lighting, will provide a dramatic and powerful perspective,” Tschetter explained.

The official unveiling and blessing took place on March 25, 2015, fittingly coinciding with the Feast of the Annunciation.


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