By Emily Gardner
Most students know about the new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe that is coming to campus, but few know the incredible story behind it. The story of the shrine began almost 20 years ago and is part of the collaborative efforts of alumni, friends and staff at the University of Dallas.
The statue of Our Lady of the Annunciation that sits just outside the Church of the Incarnation was the senior class gift of 1997 and was sculpted by senior art majors Andrew Decaen and Eric Winogradoff. Their classmate, Andy Farley, played a large part in the statue’s erection and continued to be involved after his graduation. The gift was originally made under the condition that a shrine would eventually be built around Our Lady. However, despite 13 years of persistent reminders by Farley to UD’s succeeding presidents, the promise made in 1997 was never fulfilled.
Finally in 2010, then-new President Keefe promised Farley that, after getting his feet wet as president, he would take the project of the shrine into consideration.
Years went by. Then, last year, Keefe attended a seminar in Rome with other leaders from Catholic universities. One of the keynote speakers was Monsignor Eduardo Chávez Sánchez, a priest at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and postulator for the cause of St. Juan Diego. Chávez has done over 500 hours of research on the miraculous tilma imprinted with the image of the Virgin Mary that was given to St. Juan Diego by Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531. After hearing Monsignor Chávez’s presentation, Keefe was so moved that he wanted to build a shrine to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. He was also reminded of the promise he had made to Farley.
Keefe decided to tell Farley about his idea. Farley was excited at the prospect and the project moved forward with full force. After receiving permission from Bishop Farrell, a group met to discuss the proposal of the shrine. This group included Keefe, Farley, Monsignor Chávez, Jennifer Bowring of UD’s Office of Advancement and Pia Septien of the School of Ministry.
“It was at that meeting that Farley asked Monsignor Chávez if UD could have a piece of the stone from the hill of Tepeyac to be incorporated into the foundation of the shrine,” Bowring recalled.
Several months later, Keefe and Septien were invited to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to receive a piece of the hill of Tepeyac. They first met with Chávez at a private chapel in the basilica. After climbing a narrow staircase, they arrived at what appeared to be a large vault. Chávez opened the vault, and the group stood directly in front of the original tilma. The piece of stone was presented to Keefe at the foot of the tilma.
The architect chosen to design the shrine, Jaime Dominguez, is the same architect who designed the shrine of the original tilma at the basilica in Mexico City. As Bowring relates, Dominguez was introduced to the project by Septien through one of their mutual friends in Mexico City. He was invited to UD’s campus in March to get a visual for the location of the shrine.
In keeping with Dominguez’s design, everything about the shrine will be symbolic, including the location, Mary’s unique positioning toward the west and the dimensions. The shrine will be located at the center of campus with three lines connecting Mary to the Tower, UD’s main architectural symbol, the Church of the Incarnation, a pillar of the faith life at UD, and the third with Mary directly facing the West.
The majority of shrines to Our Lady in Catholic churches traditionally have her facing the west. In Catholic tradition, Mary is the “Morning Star,” so she is depicted with the morning sun rising behind Her in the east. Thus, the rays that come out from behind Mary on the original tilma are traditionally thought of as rays of the morning sun.
Mary will stand six feet tall, plated in bronze. Directly behind her; a seven foot tall metal mesquite tree will pay tribute to both Texas and Mexico since mesquite trees are common in both places. The branches of the tree will act as the rays of sun emanating from her. Behind the tree and to the left of Mary will stand a 13 foot tall cross with Mary symbolically positioned within the arms of the cross. She is also positioned in such a way that, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the sun will rise directly behind and above her. The tree and cross will be hand designed by local artist and metallurgist, Humberto DeGarrio.
“The shrine is at the heart of the university as a whole, but it also represents a source of pride and inspiration to the Hispanic community in the area,” Ted Whapham, dean of UD’s School of Ministry, explained. “The shrine is not just for us but for the greater church in the region.”
The shrine started as a promise. Twenty years from now, current students and faculty can look back to this time and know that they were at UD when the shrine was built and that they saw its beginnings.