One of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington, D.C. is National Statuary Hall. Also known as the Old Hall of the House, it’s a semicircular gallery immediately south of the Capitol Rotunda. For nearly fifty years—from 1807 through 1857—Statuary Hall served as the meeting place for the House of Representatives. The Hall now houses many of the 100 statues of great Americans (two from each state) which together comprise the National Statuary Hall Collection.
It’s an extraordinary honor for the men and women depicted here to have been chosen by their home state as one of the two most valued people in their state’s history. Many also played a significant role in America’s history and growth, from its founding to the present day. The honorees include statesmen, politicians, humanitarians, judges, government administrators, pioneers and missionaries. They are, in a sense, emblematic of the values that each state has held dear. “This is what we stand for. This is what and whom we’re most proud of.”
It is not surprising, then, that statues of thirteen Catholics have become part of the Collection. Here are their stories.
1. Father Eusebius Kino, S.J. represents the state of Arizona in Statuary Hall. The Jesuit missionary is revered in the American Southwest as the “founder” of Christianity in that region. An accomplished cartographer and explorer, Father Kino made more than fifty missionary journeys on horseback. He proved in his diaries, maps and charts that Baja was a peninsula. He helped the local tribes by teaching them agricultural and irrigation techniques. Fr. Kino’s cause for canonization was opened in 2006, and he was then given the title Servant of God.
2. California chose Blessed Junípero Serra to represent the state in Statuary Hall. In the 18th century, Blessed Junípero was an esteemed professor of philosophy at the University of Palma, in Spain, but he longed to serve God as a missionary. For more than twenty years, he labored as a Franciscan missionary on the California coast, personally founding eight of California’s missions. He was devoted to the Native Americans, and he baptized 6,000 of them. He was declared Venerable in 1985, and was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1988. At his beatification, John Paul II said that he “sowed the seeds of Christian faith amid the mountainous changes wrought by the arrival of European scholars in the New World. … In fulfilling this ministry, Father Serra showed himself to be a true son of St. Francis.”
3. Fr. Damien de Veuster, known as the “hero of Molokai,” was selected by Hawaii to represent our newest state. Serving as a priest on the big island of Hawaii, he saw many of his parishioners exiled to the island of Molokai when they contracted Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Deprived of their families and hope, they were left in desperate circumstances. Fr. Damien volunteered to go and minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of the 600 homeless, abandoned men sent to Molokai, knowing that he, too, would never be allowed to leave the island. He cared for each victim of the disease, built their coffins, and saw to their burial in the area called the Garden of the Dead. Father Damien built churches, orphanages, homes and medical clinics. In time, he contracted leprosy, but continued his work until his death in 1885. St. Damien was canonized in October 2009.
4. General James Shields was a Union general in the Civil War. During his career, he also served as a U.S. Senator and as a member of the Illinois Supreme Court. He once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel, after Lincoln made some unflattering comments about him. The two reconciled, however, and became lifelong friends. General Shields represents the state of Illinois in Statuary Hall.
5. Edward Douglass White was Chief Justice of the United States from 1910 to 1921 and served as an associate justice for the six preceding years. During his career on the court, White wrote several hundred opinions. In 1911, he penned a “rule of reason” which distinguished between legal and illegal business combinations, in the cases of Standard Oil and American Tobacco Company. In 1916, White wrote the decision upholding the constitutionality of the eight-hour workday for railroad workers. The University of Notre Dame awarded him the Laetare Medal in recognition of his outstanding service to the Roman Catholic Church and to society. White’s statue represents the state of Louisiana.
6. Maryland is well-represented by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who lived from 1737 to 1834. He came from a prominent family: his grandfather was attorney general Lord Baltimore of Maryland, and a cousin was Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States. Educated in Europe, Carroll became prominent in politics, serving as a Congressman and as a U.S. Senator. He laid the cornerstone for the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad on June 4, 1828, and died later that year—the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
8. Dennis Chavez was chosen by the state of New Mexico to be memorialized in Statuary Hall. Chavez served as U.S. Representative from 1930-36, and as U.S. Senator from 1936 to 1960. He died in 1962. In 1976, his memory was honored in Nevada when the federal building in Albuquerque was renamed the Senator Dennis Chavez Federal Center.
9. John Burke began his legal career in Iowa and Minnesota before moving to the Dakota Territory. After North Dakota was admitted to the union, Burke served in the state House of Representatives and Senate, then served three terms as the tenth governor of North Dakota. Burke supported the candidacy of Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Democratic National Convention; and William Jennings Bryan had supported Burke for vice president, but he declined to accept that position. After Wilson’s election to the presidency, he named Burke to the position of U.S. Treasurer. Burke tried unsuccessfully to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1916. He represents the state of North Dakota.
10. Dr. John McLoughlin has been called the “Father of Oregon.” He was baptized Catholic, but raised Anglican, returning to the Catholic faith as an adult. He worked first as a physician, then as agent for the Hudson Bay Company. His general store was the last stop on the Oregon Trail. He reverted to the Catholic faith in 1842 and only four years later, was named a Knight of St. Gregory for his personal service to the Holy See and the Catholic Church. Dr. McLoughlin welcomed settlers—feeding and clothing them, caring for their sick, and giving them needed implements for farming. He was forced to resign from his position with the Hudson Bay Company over his policy of extending credit to pioneers arriving to establish new farms. A bronze statue of McLoughlin was donated to Statuary Hall by the state of Oregon in 1953.
11. Mother Mary Joseph Pariseau was a pioneer, missionary and humanitarian. She represents the state of Washington in Statuary Hall. Originally serving in Canada, Mother Mary Joseph was the first superior of the Sisters of Charity of Providence in the Northwestern United States. She traveled by horseback and stagecoach to western mining towns, where she sought financial support for her order’s projects throughout the Northwest: hospitals, schools, and orphanages. She was skilled as a carpenter, woodworker and architect; and, in the 1870s, she designed and oversaw construction of St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver, St. Vincent Hospital in Portland and Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane.
12. John Edward Kenna is one of West Virginia’s honorees in Statuary Hall. He was severely injured while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. McKenna served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, then as U.S. Senator—a post to which he was reelected several times. As a Senator, he was concerned about tariff reform and the regulation of railroads. He was an active Catholic, and was responsible for the design of Charlestown’s historic St. Joseph Church.
13. Rev. Jacques Marquette, S.J., French Jesuit missionary and explorer, discovered the Mississippi River. With French-Canadian fur trader Louis Joliet, Pere Marquette led an expedition that included five men and two canoes to find the mouth of the Mississippi River. Marquette’s goal was to spread the word of God among the people he encountered on the way. He began his missionary work in 1666 among the Native Americans in Canada, established missions in present-day Michigan, then traveled westward to present-day Wisconsin. There the group ascended the Fox River to a portage that crossed to the Wisconsin River near Prairie du Chien. He mastered six Native American languages in order to spread the Catholic faith in the region. Wisconsin chose Marquette to represent the state in Statuary Hall.
THE CALIFORNIA CONTROVERSY
There is a controversy this year surrounding one of the two statues representing the State of California:
Some Native American groups now dispute Fr. Junipero Serra’s legacy as the founder of the California Missions. His efforts, his critics claim, were
“…part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.”
According to Religion News Service, Catholic leaders have largely defended Serra’s legacy, even as they acknowledge the questions. “He lived in a very difficult time and he did the best he could under very difficult circumstances,” the Rev. Edward Benioff, who oversees evangelism for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told the local NBC affiliate. Pope Francis has hailed him as an icon of the church’s missionary focus.
Monsignor Francis J. Weber, a former archivist at the San Fernando Mission in Mission Hills, Calif., defended Serra’s work, saying he tried to separate the missionary and military aspect of the Spanish colonization. He taught natives in their own language and walked to Mexico City to secure a bill of rights for the natives.
If the protesters succeed in having Father Serra’s statue removed from National Statuary Hall, there’s another special interest group standing ready to nominate a new hero. Feminists and LGBT activists, led by openly gay Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Los Angeles Democrat, are campaigning to replace Father Serra’s statue in Statuary Hall with a statue honoring the late astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, a lesbian.
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An earlier version of this article appeared on Aleteia on July 3, 2014.