This reflection was shared at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on September 16, 2022, as we dedicated the Saint Peter statue on Warren Street.
At orientation, I mentioned the theme of our year is Sacred Space. And to gather as an entire Prep community on this glorious Friday morning to start our school year together is truly sacred. As we were reminded during morning prayer yesterday, all over the world, many high schools and universities celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of every school year. All over the world…It is a tradition that goes back to at least the 16th century, with the very first Jesuit school that opened in Messina, Sicily in 1548. I am proud that we are a part of this tradition.
As we pray today, keep in mind that the human heart has an unbelievable capacity for hope, and as Norman Cousins, the American political journalist writes, that gift of hope provides us with a sense of destination and the energy to get started. So at the beginning of this school year, we pray for this gift of hope, that it gives us the energy to help us to see farther, believe deeper, love more fully…and we do that as teachers and staff members and students and alumni and friends of Prep.
And today we also continue our celebration of 150 years of Pride & Glory. Then. Now. Always. And as we begin this last semester in our celebration, we are excited to unveil a statue that will serve as an indelible sign of this milestone. It’s a statue of a young Saint Peter created by New Jersey’s own Brian Hanlon.
Mr. Hanlon is a classically-trained master sculptor, and he has created over 550 public and private art pieces since 1986. His sculptures of historical, political, athletic, and religious figures have been celebrated all over the country. The New York Times once described him as “a sports Rodin.” In the past decade, he has been selected as the official sculptor of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Stadium, and he has created notable statues of Harriet Tubman, Shaquille O’Neil, Yogi Berra, Charles Barkley, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Mr. Hanlon’s father, Rocky Hanlon, is a Prep grad (1953) and a member of our Athletic Hall of Fame. Mr. Hanlon also had many uncles and cousins attend Saint Peter’s Prep.
I’d also like to recognize Mrs. Trish Fitzpatrick, who came up with the idea in the fall of 2019 of Prep commissioning a statue to commemorate the anniversary.
With input from the members of Prep’s 150th Anniversary committee, Mr. Hanlon has created what we hope will become a new icon of Saint Peter’s Prep, our home, this hallowed ground, this sacred space in downtown Jersey City. In contrast to most interpretations of Saint Peter in art through the centuries—our statue does not show the bearded, white-haired, older pope, but rather the young fisherman whose future remains to be written.
This is the Peter I’ve spoken to you about as “Mr. Imperfect,” last year, the guy whose nets sometimes come up empty, the one who sometimes panics when a storm rocks his boat, or when things aren’t going as planned. He’s the guy who wants to follow the example of his friend Jesus, but sometimes he just doesn’t know how. He’s the young man who went by a completely different name—Simon—until Jesus looked past his flaws and helped him see the very best in himself by telling him “You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church.”
We read about this part of Peter’s personality in the Gospels, but we don’t often get to see him this way in art. We chose to celebrate this vision of Peter as a young man—and Mr. Hanlon captured it in this stunning work—because it is essential to Peter’s story, and essential to what he teaches us as our namesake, our patron. But it is also essential to our story and the story of every Prep student who has ever walked and will walk down Warren Street. to enter our doors.
In short, he represents us: imperfect and imperfectable, but someone with the entire world in front of him, someone who is loved by God, who has vast potential to change the world, and who is a masterpiece and a work in progress all at the same time. He is us. And He is a reminder that we, as Prep students, teachers, staff, alumni, parents, and friends of Prep are always sub umbra Petri—under the shadow of Peter.
Michael Gomez, Ed.D., ’91