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When visiting downtown Seattle in 2018, my husband and I were stopped in our tracks. On the sidewalk in front of a church was an intriguing life-sized bronze sculpture depicting a homeless person lying on a bench covered by a blanket except for his man-sized feet. After a few seconds spent admiring the sculpture’s painful modern realism, I exclaimed, “It’s Jesus!” upon noticing that the exposed feet bore the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. We walked away, but that sculpture left a searing emotional imprint.

Timothy Schmalz
Sculptor Timothy Schmalz with “Homeless Jesus” in Philadelphia, PA. (Timothy Schmalz)

Fast-forward to December 2019 at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. We attended a “live sculpting” event featuring Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian artist renowned for his religious-themed bronzes. We watched Schmalz engage the crowd while crafting a 5-by-5-foot nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.

During his presentation, Tim humbly shared a significant recent milestone. In September 2019, his monumental 20-ft.-long, 2.5-ton sculpture ‘Angels Unawares’ was unveiled before Pope Francis at its permanent home in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square.

The open boat design, representing displaced people of varied ethnicities throughout history, was commissioned by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, which the Pope actively oversees. Since viewed by millions of visitors, Schmalz’s highly acclaimed masterpiece is a testament to his artistic prowess and social consciousness. Still, few people know his name.

Timothy SchmalzPope Francis at the 2019 unveiling of Angels Unawares” at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Italy. (Photo courtesy of Timothy Schmalz)

A second cast of “Angels Unawares” is permanently showcased in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of Catholic University, where the boat sculpture “floats” in a water feature.

Fast-forward again to May in South Florida. When Tim Schmalz spoke before our religious-themed group, we learned he had sculpted the Seattle sidewalk’s “Homeless Jesus.” Tim revealed, "The sculpture has become very popular and appears in so many cities that it is hard to keep track of where since a new one is made and installed every month in a different place. It reveals to me there is a hunger for Gospel messages worldwide.”

Wikipedia mentions that in 2017, Homeless Jesus was in 50 cities worldwide, which explains why, in 2024, Tim had lost track of exactly where his sculpture was impacting passersby, similar to my own 2018 experience.

Timothy Paul Schmalz, age 55, from Ontario, Canada, has spent 30 years representing Christianity by sculpting traditional Bible-based subjects with his unique mix of modern and classic styles. However, in the last decade, he found a secular niche, creating visual translations of Matthew Chapter 25, Jesus’s lesson about helping the poor. Tim divulged what sparked that artistic journey: “I saw a homeless person in a city totally shrouded in a blanket in the middle of the day and felt that I just saw Jesus. Then, I returned to my studio and sculpted that experience with raw emotion.”

Timothy Schmalz

Tim’s “Homeless Jesus series” also includes a street beggar with crucifixion marks on his palm. He expounded upon the theological foundation of addressing this growing societal problem:

“Jesus states that whenever you help the least in society, you are indeed helping Him. He does not say, ‘It is a good thing to help the poor.’ Jesus says, ‘When you help the poor, you are helping Him’ — direct, with no ambiguity. My sculptures reflect that truth. Over the years, I learned from homeless people that they often regain a sense of dignity when they see Jesus looking a lot like them. When wondering if I asked Jesus how he would like to be represented in art, I think he would insist that art mirrors his words.” 

Regarding Jesus’s teachings, I inquired about Tim’s relationship with the Vatican, where Homeless Jesus is installed outside the Office of Papal Charities. “I perceive myself as an artistic soldier for the Catholic Church,” he said. “Although ‘Angels Unawares’ offers me a high Vatican profile, they also like to promote my new projects elsewhere. The most notable example is ‘Let The Oppressed Go Free,’ a sculpture on the theme of human trafficking that was installed outside of Venice, Italy. Currently, I am working on two major projects with different Vatican departments,” Schmalz disclosed.

As an “artistic soldier for the Catholic Church,” Schmalz sees more divine opportunities, saying, “I have learned that many important, beautiful aspects of the Bible have never been put to life via art, which is a very powerful way of evangelizing since a bronze sculpture lasts hundreds of years. St. Francis said, ‘Preach everywhere you go, if necessary, even use words,’ I say use sculpture.”

Schmalz’s artistic evangelization brought him to Orlando, Florida, home to numerous attractions, including Disney World. Three miles from Mickey Mouse stands the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. This 3,800-seat church was built in 1993 for Catholic tourists to attend Mass. On the Basilica’s expansive 17-acre grounds, Schmalz is completing his “most epic project to date,” scheduled to open in November.

As with theme park rides, Tim’s attraction is sure to “wow” with fourteen life-sized “Stations of the Cross” cast in bronze, measuring 30 feet wide and some 14 feet tall. “There are thousands of figures within the stations,” he explained. However, Tim prefers not to call his epic project “Stations of the Cross” even though “the Passion of Christ is the focus.” Schmalz’s ambitious journey into the heart and soul of Christianity expands well beyond the traditional Stations since he mentioned, “There are details of almost every parable in the Bible that Jesus taught.”

Timothy Schmalz“Stations of the Cross,” shown before bronze casting, is scheduled to later this year in Orlando, Florida. (Timothy Schmalz) 

Schmalz's greatest hope is “when millions of children are asked about the favorite part of their Orlando trip, they will say ‘visiting the Gospel Gardens’ because this subject has such lasting power.” Tim believes that “Jesus would find Orlando, with 70 million annual visitors, one of the best places in the world to preach the Good News. People are hungry for the spiritual but may not feel the hunger pangs. My sculpture garden provides an opportunity to be fed.”

The massive Orlando project took Schmalz three years of nonstop sculpting, and he thanks his patron, Barbara Papitto, for financially supporting his grand vision. Tim gratefully added, “All of my projects, including the Vatican collaborations, are from private patrons. These are blessed people who, by their gifts, want to spread the Gospels to future generations.” 

A quote in Tim’s promotional brochure says, “I am not interested in art for art’s sake but art for God’s sake. I constantly strive to put an authentic face to our faith with art.”

That quote prompted me to ask Tim the source of his inspiration. He answered, “I listen nonstop to the Bible with faith that the Scripture will find the fertile soil of my studio to flourish into visual symbols that will impact people. I have faith in art.”

Timothy Schmalz

Tim’s faith impacts millions through sculptures installed across America and the world, connecting Biblical passages with social activism, such as his popular pro-life series.

Given Tim’s stature among Catholic leaders, he will be “live sculpting” at the National Eucharistic Congress, where approximately 50,000 Catholic pilgrims will gather in Indianapolis, Indiana, between July 17- 21.

People walk by Tim Schmalz’s public sculptures daily but do not know his name. However, they always remember the emotional, spiritual, and gospel messages created “In His Name.”

Myra Kahn Adams is a religious and political writer with numerous national credits.

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