By Dianne Frances D. Powell
Sister Jeanne Knoerle’s familiar smile is now a fixed feature of the building bearing her name.
A bronze bust sculpture of Knoerle, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s beloved 12th president, a Sister of Providence and a 1949 graduate was unveiled this morning. Weighing 35 pounds and approximately 24 inches tall, the work of art by noted sculptor Jerry McKenna is now prominently displayed just outside the entrance of the Hamilton Arena (the gym), inside the Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center, ready to welcome students, faculty, staff and visitors.
Cheers and applause from SMWC faculty, staff, students and Sisters of Providence greeted the bust immediately after it was unveiled by representatives of Knoerle’s family. “I think you got her right,” SMWC President Dottie King, Ph.D., said to McKenna. King continued turning to attendees, “We all knew her at different stages in life, but this looks like the Jeanne that I know.”
Knoerle, who passed away in 2013, is fondly remembered as a pioneer who launched distance education at The Woods by leading the creation of the Women’s External Degree program (now Woods Online) during her tenure as College president in 1968 to 1983. She is also widely credited for her vision and support for SMWC’s athletics programs.
With these accomplishments in mind, King described Knoerle as a woman who was always looking forward. Although, Knoerle possessed other wonderful attributes, King said she believes this [forward thinking] to be her best one.
The artist, McKenna, hopes those who gaze at the statue will recognize these attributes. “What I’m hoping they see is the spirit of Sister Jeanne come through in the bronze,” he said.
During his brief remarks at the dedication, McKenna said he met Knoerle during several events at the College. He said it is easier to create a sculpture of a subject he has met. “I was so impressed by her,” he said. The sculpture is a reflection of how McKenna saw her, he said.
The sculpture is a gift to the College by McKenna and his wife, Gail, a 1963 SMWC graduate.
He designed it in his studio in San Antonio, Texas. He said it took about three to four weeks to finish before sending it to the foundry for casting, a process which took a few months. The pedestal holding the bronze — which matches the wood of the Knoerle Center — was a gift from McKenna’s college friend, Tim Monahan and his wife, Joan. Monahan’s mom, Mary Cunningham Monahan was an alumna of the class of 1933.
A lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Air Force turned sculptor, McKenna has created 240 sculptures of military leaders, religious figures and sports stars — including Saint Mother Theodore Guerin — across the U.S., Japan, Germany, England, Ireland, Nepal and Norway. The University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, is the recipient of 25 of those sculptures. He has earned various awards including the 2003 Sports Sculptor of the Yearby the All-American Football Foundation in recognition of his seventeen portrait busts in the Pro Hall of Fame.
This recent “McKenna” addition to the Knoerle Center is one of three featuring a colored patina. “This is the first time I’ve done a portrait bust with a colored patina. I really like it,” he said.
Those who attended the ceremony — which also included a blessing of the statue led by Jean Fuqua, SP, ’55 —appeared to enjoy it, as well. John Knoerle of Chicago, the late nun’s nephew, said he immediately recognized the “offset smile,” a Knoerle family trait.
“It’s such a wonderful commemoration of a great woman,” he said of the event, although his aunt would be blushing if she were in attendance, he added with a laugh.
“I think it’s quite the honor,” John Knoerle’s wife, Judie, said. “I just think it’s lovely to be able to see her face.”
Knoerle’s cousins, Carolyn Seufert and Susan Orr ’65, both of Indianapolis, also attended the event.
President King said the sculpture was placed in the Ariens Atrium near the gym’s entrance because it was a place where it would get the most notice. The sculpture not only brings to the College a work of art by a notable artist but also a remembrance of important people at the College who invested in it and its students, she said. It is a reminder of the legacy inherited by the current students, faculty, staff and alumni at The Woods.
“Jeanne will help us remember that [legacy],” she said.