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New Sculpture Celebrates Friendship Between Catholics and Jews

On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, Marist School dedicated a new sculpture—Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time—that will inspire current and future generations of students to live a life of friendship with the Jewish people.
Created by Joshua Koffman, a Philadelphia-based artist known for his expressive and dramatic large-scale bronze sculptures, Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time embodies what Pope Francis describes as the “rich complementarity that allows [the Church and the Jewish people] to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another mine the riches of God’s word.”  The sculpture also reflects Marist’s focus on creating a campus culture in which students learn to understand the inherent dignity and perspectives of peoples from a variety of cultures, experiences, and places around the world, as well as close to home. This is essential knowledge for students as Marist prepares them to be faith-filled, global-ready servant leaders, as outlined in Strategic Plan 2025, which guides the school as it continues to fulfill its mission to form young people in the image of Christ.

Marist School is home to the second rendition of the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture. Joshua Koffman says he will ultimately create only nine of these sculptures. The original was unveiled in 2015 at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From his viewpoint, Koffman feels he was born to create the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture. He told those present at the dedication event, “I have a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Combine that with years of sculpture training and experience making figurative work, and it appears it was all meant to be.” Koffman says he has come to recognize the sculpture’s remarkable message and symbolism and its significance in telling the story of Jewish-Catholic relations.
 
The Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture depicts a reimagined relationship between Ecclesia (Church) and Synagoga (Synagogue), the two allegorical figures that have historically been shown as separate in manuscripts, woodcuts, statues, stained-glass windows, and other places. Ecclesia was typically seen crowned and triumphant, while Synagoga appeared rejected and defeated. Significantly, in Koffman’s sculpture, the two are seated together, leaning toward one another as if to study each other’s sacred texts, thus exemplifying a deepening appreciation of the divinely given mission for people of both faiths to bear witness to God’s faithful love.
 
The historical imagery of Ecclesia and Synagoga reflected the Catholic Church’s longstanding theological doctrines stating that Christianity had superseded Judaism and Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. Those doctrines, which played a part in antisemitism throughout history, were themselves superseded when Pope Paul VI announced the landmark Nostra Aetate declaration on October 28, 1965. Nostra Aetate reversed the Church’s previous stance by proclaiming that the covenant God made with the Jewish people had never been broken and that Christianity has its roots in Judaism. The declaration ushered in a new era for Jewish-Christian relations, and since then many Catholics have been blessed with the opportunity to personally experience Judaism’s rich religious life and God’s gifts of holiness.
 
Members of Atlanta’s Jewish, Catholic, and Marist communities spoke at the dedication event, which was emceed by Mr. Brendan Murphy, the Marist School social studies teacher who was instrumental in bringing the sculpture to campus. At the beginning of the evening in Esmond Brady Memorial Chapel, Mr. Murphy shared the story of the sculpture’s journey to Marist School. In 2015, he was awestruck upon seeing a photo of the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture when Pope Francis blessed it at St. Joseph’s University. He called Joshua Koffman to ask about the possibility of producing a second sculpture for Marist and was thrilled to receive an affirmative response. Mr. Murphy then brought the idea to Marist School President Father Bill Rowland, S.M., who enthusiastically approved. The generosity of the O’Haren and Ross families helped make the sculpture’s presence on Marist’s campus a reality.
 
Many of the evening’s speakers remarked on the significance of the Nostra Aetate declaration, the implications it has had on the relationship between the Jewish and Catholic communities, and the positive influence the new sculpture will have on Marist students.
 
Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta, believes that the Nostra Aetate declaration has allowed Jews and Catholics to view themselves as partners in working for the reign of God. He said, “We are all part of God’s world. Each of us bears the responsibility to build a world filled with peace.” With regards to Marist’s new sculpture, he commented, “This one-of-a-kind image here at Marist will make sure Nostra Aetate is always front and center. [Marist] is teaching the next generation what we can do together instead of apart…may its message of hope and partnership and collaboration bring about an era of peace and harmony.”
 
Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Southern division of ADL, a leading anti-hate organization, said, “With Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church recognized a changed narrative of Jewish-Catholic history that would forever alter our path forward…We are all so grateful that you have brought this sculpture to inspire questions of how to write the history we all seek for the future.”
 
Marist alumnus Frank McCloskey ’68, a retired Georgia Power executive with a distinguished career working on initiatives affecting diversity and inclusion, also spoke. Referencing a quote from the Judy Chicago poem, The Merger, which begins “And then all that has divided us will merge,” his message was one of hope and confidence that societal changes are possible. He reminded everyone of the important words spoken by Mr. Murphy in a video that was specially prepared for the dedication.
 
Mr. Murphy said, “As a history teacher, I want my students to understand that history is never inevitable. Instead, history is always the result of a collection of choices, and those choices can always be different. We have to believe that. So, I want my students to believe that it is within them to apply all of their learning, their innate sympathy, to the project of promoting understanding among different peoples, religions, and cultures, to, in effect, create a better world. I think the sculpture speaks to that essential value.”
 
During the second half of the dedication, attendees assembled in front of the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture, which is centrally located on Marist’s campus between Wooldridge Center and the Arcade. With four benches surrounding the sculpture, it has already become a popular gathering spot for students.
 
Archdiocese of Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Joel Konzen, S.M. led off the dedicatory portion of the evening, adding his thoughts on Nostra Aetate. He said, “Their bold stance, represented in the brief declaration that has come to mean so much to both Jewish and Catholic communities, has reminded us that, while we cannot undo much of the harm that was done through centuries of prejudice and subjugation of Jewish brothers and sisters, it is possible to begin again with a pledge of understanding and cooperation, and with a reconceived Catholic interpretation of revelation, covenant, and discipleship. As a result, we Catholics are proud to proclaim reverence for what is good and true in all the religious traditions that point to the ineffable reality of the one God that we worship…May we never tire of discovering avenues of collaboration.”
 
After a lovely musical performance by members of the Ross family, he and Rabbi Berg blessed and dedicated the statue.
 
Mr. Murphy summed up the importance of the sculpture dedication with these words: “We remember the terrible past, for there is not future without memory. We commemorate the landmark Nostra Aetate declaration, which helped create a new place for fellowship between Jews and Christians, and we celebrate the Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time sculpture being at Marist School, which will keep hope alive for Marist students for generations to come.”

Commenting on this watershed moment for Marist School, Fr. Rowland reflected, “Marist School is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She taught Jesus how to pray, answered his questions about the Torah, took him to the synagogue and the Temple. I am sure she is pleased that a school named after her would have on its campus a sculpture celebrating the kinship between Judaism and Christianity that reflects what she knows to be the best of both.”

Watch a video about the journey of the sculpture to Marist School.
Learn more about the history leading up to the Nostra Aetate declaration.
View photos from the dedication.

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers