Visitors to Nazareth often comment on the beauty of Nazareth – especially the peacefulness and beauty of the grounds, which compliments the magnificent old buildings. One of the most photographed scenes at Nazareth is the front of the Motherhouse, which has an ageless beauty that is often difficult to capture in a mere photograph. Included in that scene are two statues that represent much of the history of the congregation, the statues of Mother Catherine Spalding and Rt. Rev. John Baptist David, who came to Kentucky in 1811 to escape the French Revolution, and founded the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 1812. Much of the rich, religious heritage of this area can be traced to the efforts of Father – later Bishop David. The statues, which records indicate were gifts to Nazareth from St. Thomas and St. Vincent Orphanages, were made in Europe and were intended to arrive and be in place in time to be part of the Centennial celebration in 1912; but they arrived too late. When they finally arrived in December they were placed along the walkway where they remain today.
The statue of Bishop David was involved in an unfortunate incident in the early spring of 1921. S. Mary Lucita Gholson, who died at the age of 93 in 1993, gave the following written account of the incident:
“A corps of our resident workers had tied ropes around a massive, aged tree to guide the giant in falling away from the building and Bishop David’s statue. However, the tree, more than 100 years old, seemed to have its own plan for its uprooting. It fell with a deafening thud, decapitating Bishop David’s statue, cutting the torso into two parts, and damaging the pedestal. Except for the quick waving of arms and jumping maneuvers on the part of a mute helper, someone would have been badly crushed or killed. …
“I, a young Sister, was on duty that morning as a “runner” for Sister Ildefonsa, the Senior Sister presider, whose duty it was to answer the door bell and the one crank telephone affixed to the wall near the steps leading to the subway (the ground floor). I had delivered a message to the Foreman and was on my way back to the building when I heard the crash. I turned, saw the group of men scattered on the front lawn, and Bishop David’s head – which had ‘rolled’ toward the building; the torso thrown toward the front walk, the pedestal badly chipped. How lucky we humans were! Mother Rose with the Council, her ‘supporters’ as Father Priest used to call them, came out, knelt on the ground, and offered prayers of thanksgiving that no one was injured.
“While waiting for a suitable mender of the decapitated, badly damaged statue and pedestal, the statue, divided into three parts (albeit not three equal parts) lay in the museum, and later the library…
“How long the statueless pedestal graced (or disgraced) the front lawn, I am not sure. Finally, the statue, mended so well that most observers to this day know nothing of the downfall of Bishop David, found its way back to the well-mended pedestal.”
Bishop David and Mother Catherine Spalding remained close friends throughout their lifetimes. McGill states, “In the year 1841, following the restoration of harmony at Nazareth, Mother Catherine suffered the loss of her holy guide and friend who had always been “Father” David to his beloved sisterhood.…”
As his health failed, Bishop David expressed his wishes to be taken to Nazareth to “end his days.” McGill states, “As soon as Mother Catherine returned and heard of ‘Father’ David’s longing to be at Nazareth, she herself went immediately to his bedside to have preparation made for fulfilling his
wishes. At once a litter was made and covered with a good canopy. Ten negro men neatly dressed in uniform, black coats and white trousers, went from Nazareth the following day and, with fitting reverence and dignity, conveyed ‘the dying saint’ to his chosen resting-place, the home of his beloved daughters in Christ. As he was borne along the road from Bardstown to Nazareth, two Sisters who had been his nurses walked beside him, followed by a throng of faithful friends in reverent mournful procession. As the beloved prelate and his escort arrived within sight of Nazareth, Mother Catherine at the head of the whole community, went forth to meet their cherished father. Bishop David’s trembling hands extended in blessing as his children knelt on the ground around him. … In his last moments, Mother Catherine sent for all the Sisters. Their presence rejoiced his heart.”
Both statues underwent major renovation in 2000 and 2001 and are in excellent condition at this point. Hopefully, they will continue to welcome visitors to Nazareth in the spirit of Catherine Spalding and Bishop David, for many years and many celebrations to come.