Ignatius the Pilgrim
William McElcheran's scholarship and humanism was a constant throughout his work. He often wrote his thoughts regarding his creative process, evidenced by the essay seen below.
The statue of Saint Ignatius
I have approached Saint Ignatius as both a symbol and a person. The symbolic aspect of the saint has to do with the response of the Church to a changing world. Ignatius is probably the prototype of the modern Christian; going forth into the world carrying the cloister about his heart - a very large cloister that has room for the whole of creation. This “going forth” is symbolized in the statue by the driving stance of the figure, leaning into the wind. The winds of change are not merely the force of evil but, nevertheless, the hand the clutches at the cloak is opposing the destructive power that accompanies them.
But Ignatius is not merely pulling together the rent garment of the faith. The winds blow from the ends of the earth. They still blow from yet undiscovered reaches of creation. The challenge of the world is not just a menace, it is a living manifestation of God‘s power and the wonder of the incarnation. Ignatius, the adventurer, responds.
Just as Saint Francis Xavier, Saint John de Brébeuf and his brethren and all the great Jesuit missionaries answered the call of the unknown, knowing that Christ was to be found wherever they sought him, so too the modern Jesuit can go down the many paths of the world, knowing that Christ is always there and bringing his image printed upon his soul.
The need for communication was important then as it is important now. We must speak to each other and find each other in Christ. The letter in the saint’s hand symbolizes this communication. It is not merely symbolic, but comments upon the actual manner in which Ignatius conducted his apostolate.
The statue is not merely an allegory about Saint Ignatius. I have tried to embody all these overtures in the person of Ignatius himself. We are very fortunate to have a good deal of information about him. His death mask gives us a very clear idea of his facial type. It is therefore possible to portray him in depth. In some ways the fund of information that we have in this case is a great disadvantage to the artist. Ignatius is no dreamy legend. He is not some vague personage whose personality is submerged in pious fantasy. Our knowledge makes it difficult to create abstraction in this case. He is not only very real to us, he was also very much a realist. His whole external life as head of a very active order must have appeared to be physically inactive. The great conquests that he was making through his interior life, and his influence on the members of the order he founded, cannot be adequately expressed by dramatic gestures. He was more director than star performer, and I feel that this must have been the greatest penance of his life.
The strong, earthy man who naturally responded to the force of the wind (as anyone would) is, I feel, a better description of Ignatius than a generalized abstraction. I have tried to see this reality in the abstract and use it as a vehicle for good sculpture that speaks of the significance of Ignatius, the contemplative in action.
William McElcheran, Sculptor