Nestled among the books in the Burns Library’s Irish Room, the Our Lady of Knock statue is a beautiful work of art combining simplicity with elegance. During a visit to Ireland in 1950 Bapst Library Director Reverend Terence L. Connolly, commissioned the work. The statue was an important part of the Marian Year celebrations of 1954. The statue is a very special piece in the Irish Collection and now stands in the Irish Room in the John J. Burns Library. Always on display, this statue not only represents the beauty of art, but also the history of Catholicism, Ireland, and Boston College. This sculpture is the work of Domhnall Ó Murchadha (1914 – 1991) , an Irish sculptor and lecturer born in Cork. At the time of this work’s commission, he resided in Dublin where he worked as a professor of sculpture at the National College of Art in Dublin and as a lecturer of art history at the National Gallery.
Ó Murchadha carved the statue from Irish oak and created a wooden statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she was seen by the witnesses of her appearance within the town of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland. On August 21, 1879 at about nine o’clock, a vision appeared to a woman and then to a larger group on the gable of the church in Knock. The Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John appeared to an audience of fifteen people ranging in age from a young boy to an elderly woman. After this apparition, hundreds of people began to flock to the Knock in order to see and hear of the Virgin Mary. The Shrine of Mary in Knock was thus immortalized and the town would be glorified by thousands of people who believed in the events that transpired. The personal pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II in 1979, commemorating the centenary of the apparition, inspired an even greater devotion to the Shrine and endorsed the indelible seal of Vatican approval. Mother Teresa of Calcutta also visited the Shrine in June of 1993. Now, one and a half million pilgrims visit the Shrine annually. And so, this apparition of Mary in 1897 was memorialized in physical form by sculptor Domhnall Ó Murchadha when the Marian Year of 1954 was in full flourish.
Pope Pius XII decreed 1954 to be the Marian Year. Partially based upon the great interest of Pope Pius XII in the Marian doctrine and cult, it was also the product of the devastating effects of World War I, World War II and the Korean War in the United States. During this time in history, many people were looking for hope and comfort in a world marred by death and destruction. Pope Pius XII saw this need for hope and decided to help through devotion and celebration. Pope Pius XII’s decision to dedicate the year 1954 to Mary reminded Catholics of everything that Mary represents – love, hope, and charity, and of everything that Mary gave, especially the gift of “The Light of the World,” Jesus. Domhnall Ó Murchadha’s Our Lady of Knock statue reminds us in the month of May of this hope. Through uplifting hands and face, her expression and countenance is open as if she is looking to divine guidance. As we work through May, the month of Mary, perhaps we can also look to her and find comfort in what Father Terence Connolly described as the “blend of quiet ecstasy and joy” in her expression. Visit the John J. Burns Library to see the Our Lady of Knock statue. If you have any questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Danica Ramsey-Brimberg, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & History and Irish Studies, Class of 2013
Carroll, E.R. “Mary, Blessed Virgin, Devotion.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
Capuchin Annual. Dublin: Capuchin Annual, 1969.
Connolly, Rev. Terence, S.J. 1954. “The Marian Year.” Boston College Alumni News 18.2 (1954): 3.
Librarium: For Friends of Boston College Library. Chestnut Hill, MA: The Library, April 1954.