25 September 2016

St Benedict the Moor Sculpture by Frederick Shrady, Drago Kuharec

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This sculpture of Saint Benedict the Moor has a commanding view of the city of Pittsburgh. Climbing into the Hill District along Centre Ave you can’t help but be impressed by the image of this saint watching over our town.

The parish this sculpture belongs to was originally established in 1889 by Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne University) specifically to minister to the African American population here. It is now a product of mergers with four other parishes, which brought in a mix of other heritages.

The decade of the 1960’s was a turbulent one. The church is across the street from Freedom Square, where many protests and demonstrations for racial equality began over the years. The church and the sculpture overlook the Lower Hill, where construction of the Civic Arena displaced half the African American community in the early 60’s against their will. When the sculpture was dedicated in 1968, the bishop of Pittsburgh was quoted in The Bridgeport Post as saying that the sculpture proclaims the Gospel message of love and unity in an area threatened by divisions arising from color and ethnic backgrounds.

We read that artist Frederick Shrady was assisted by Drago Kuharec, a metal expert, in the creation of the piece. We heard from Mr Kuharec's son who wrote: Being the Son of the sculpturer named Drago Kuharec, the sole builder of the St. Benedict the Moor sculpture atop the church at 91 Crawford St., Pittsburgh, it is error to say my Father assisted F. Shrady. I was 13 when my Father worked solely to build the sculpture from scratch. I assisted him when it had to be welded together piece by piece on a double rectangular steel tubes which was the base that gave it it's ability to stand errect. Mister Frederick Shrady was only involved in assisting in outline drawings of the statue which my Father used only as a rough outline of the piece to be made. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the sculpture was designed by Mr Shrady and brought to life by Mr Kuharec?

The sculpture is 18 feet high, 14 feet wide, and 120 feet up. It was sculpted entirely by hand out of aluminum and weighs in around 3,000 pounds. They had to worry as much about the support for the sculpture as the sculpture itself. Mounted on the church steeple near the top of the hill, the framework had to support the size and weight of this statue and take into account the potential for high winds.

Benedetto da San Fratello was the son of slaves, born in Italy in the 16th century. He was granted his freedom at birth because of his parents’ loyalty. He became a Friar known for patience and tolerance in the face of racism, as well as for his charitable works. Saint Benedict the Moor is the patron saint of African American Catholics in North America. There are many churches named in his honor in the US as well as in South America.

Frederick Shrady did many religious and secular sculptures, but is perhaps most famous for being the first American sculptor commissioned by a pope. He created a marble statue of Our Lady of Fatima for the Vatican Garden.

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