Holy Family Church's 'Cosmic family’ tells the story in Duluth's Lincoln ParkSince 1997, the only way many people would know that a big light-colored brick building in Lincoln Park on West Third Street was a church was by reading the sign. It was a nondescript building to the casual passerby. There was no bell tower, steeple or cross. “The only indication we had that we were a Catholic or Christian church was the sign out there. Other than that, we could be anything,” said Terry Figel, pastor of the parish.
Since 1997, the only way many people would know that a big light-colored brick building in Lincoln Park on West Third Street was a church was by reading the sign. It was a nondescript building to the casual passerby. There was no bell tower, steeple or cross.
“The only indication we had that we were a Catholic or Christian church was the sign out there. Other than that, we could be anything,” said Terry Figel, pastor of the parish.
All that changed this fall when Cy Speltz and his son, Shane, installed Cy’s copper and fiberglass artwork, “Cosmic Family.” The piece measures 18 feet by 18 feet.
In October, Marshall Thornton sat in a lawn chair and watched the father and son duo work to put it up. “I acted as a gofer,” he said with a laugh. While the father and son were in booms and lifts, he assisted them. “I got drill bits for them and got what they needed as each piece came around.”
Thornton said many neighborhood people walked by and watched or commented on the artwork.
“A lot of people were really happy because it was something in their neighborhood. All of a sudden, you have this big piece of art there,” Thornton said. “It kinda blew their minds. It spiffed up their neighborhood. It said this area’s not dead. We’re not dead; we live in this area.”
“It was intriguing,” Thornton said of watching the installation. “Cy’s been a friend of mine since the early ’70s. I was really curious about how he was going to put it up.”
Thornton, a Norton Park resident and a former member of Holy Family Church, was impressed with Speltz’s artwork on churches, a high school and in a Twin Cities medical clinic. He was the one who suggested that Speltz’s artwork might be the answer to the parish’s quest for a religious symbol on the building.
Speltz learned the history of the parish: A new parish formed from three Catholic Churches that began their merger in 1974. Those churches were St. Jean-Baptiste, which served French-speaking congregations; SS Peter and Paul, which served Polish-speaking people, and St. Clement’s, which served English- and German-speaking people. The combined parishes were named Holy Family. By 1998, the present building was dedicated on the spot formerly occupied by the St. Jean-Baptiste church building, 1885-1996 (Demolished)
Now the Site of Holy Family Church building. Now the congregation had a building with a blank wall 50 feet high and 50 feet wide facing Third Street.
“They wanted to have some type of design to connect all three parishes,” said Speltz.
Speltz met with Terry Figel and other key people on the finance and pastoral committees.
“I did a proposal for them and I knew it was Holy Family,” Speltz said “I would do a design that would catch the idea of the extended cosmic family, also.”
Speltz is a retired religious studies education director. “Christ’s light extends through all of creation and the heavens,” he said. “I played on this idea that God’s light and life is never to cease. It expands through heavens and the earth. I wanted to include in that all the other dimensions of God’s family beside the traditional Mary, Jesus and Joseph and all the humanity of the earth, plus the angels and archangels.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 18, an explanation of the symbolism was included in the Holy Family Church bulletin. In part, it said:
“The copper silhouette in the center of the design symbolizes what we normally think of as the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The cream-colored circle of fiberglass with the rays extending beyond the Benedictine-shaped copper cross symbolizes the light of the life of Christ not only surrounding the Holy Family of Nazareth and all God’s people but beyond the universe to all God’s Creation. The myriad of stars circling the earth depicts all the heavenly hosts under the vast expansiveness of Christ’s saving power. Jesus is the Mystery of our Faith. “Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.” Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. His light overcomes the darkness. Through Him, all humankind, both living and dead, in the heaven and on earth are made one, made holy, made catholic and made apostolic, in one gigantic holy family.”
“I like the fact that the artist was able to include the holy family,” Figel said. “God usually has people on earth to do things. The reason we called it Holy Family is because we combined three churches.” Figel said he also likes the way Speltz included stars in groups of seven around the perimeter of the holy family. The number seven is especially important in many Christian faiths and especially in the Roman Catholic faith.
“I love it and so do the people,” said Marilyn Gratto, pastoral council chairwoman for Holy Family Church. “Initially we had planned that we would have three crosses on that wall; we just didn’t have the money at that time.
“It depicts the Holy Family,” Gratto continued. “People can look at it and say, ‘Hey! That’s a Catholic church and I want to go there.’”
Speltz learned copper-working in Uganda, where he spent 10 years working as a missionary.
Retired, he now lives in a double-wide trailer on a lake in Lindstrom, Minn., and his son Shane lives five blocks away. Speltz walked to his son’s house every day to create the copper and fiberglass sculpture. “He has a large house with a good-sized basement. I worked a lot of hours for almost three months and my son helped me,” Speltz said. “It was really a bonding thing, this project.” His son, who works full time, would help his father a couple of hours every day.
On the October day the sculpture was hung, some 400 special screws were sunk into the brick and mortar. “My son was a tremendous help, because I was able to keep an eye that the design was correct. He ran the boom lift. I had never attempted going up in a boom,” Speltz said. “Without him, I could never have done it.”
Shane said the experience of working with his father was amazing. “I’ve done many different projects with my father over the years, starting as a little kid. But this by far was most gratifying.”
He said that neither his dad nor he could have completed the task of attaching the sculpture to the top of the church walls alone. “It was frightening for both of us, because we both don’t like heights.” They used a rented scissors lift and boom to hang the sculpture.
“It’s a beautiful piece,” said Jo Ellen Travis, a member of Holy Family Church’s parish council.