Statue creation for retreat center became personal for Michigan artist

In her studio north of Detroit, artist Suzanne M. Young discusses her sculpture of the Holy Family before movers packed it for transport to the Sacre-Coeur Retreat Center in Magnolia on July 17. It is one of three commissioned works that Young created for the new facility. (Provided photo)

For Suzanne Young, creating statues of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Jesus the Divine Mercy for the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center became very personal last Oct. 1.

That was the day her mother, Evelyn Rose Young, 96, took her last breath while the artist held her hand and was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Suzanne Young, a Michigan artist who had been commissioned to produce the two statues a few weeks earlier by Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, soon realized that the day her mother died was the feast of St. Thérèse.

“It became very impacting to me and profound for me, these two sculptures,” Young told The Catholic Post. “Right after that I got the clay and started.”

The fired clay sculpture of Jesus the Divine Mercy by Suzanne Young will be placed in the new retreat center’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart. (Provided photo)

The statues are two of three major pieces of art that the Diocese of Peoria commissioned Young to create for the retreat center. While the life-sized St. Thérèse and Jesus the Divine Mercy statues will occupy niches in the main chapel, Young also created a fired clay rendition of the Holy Family that will be placed in the walkway connecting the retreat center’s guest rooms and conference center.


The commission continues an appreciation for Young’s artistry that dates back to when Bishop Tylka was preparing for the priesthood at Niles College Seminary of Loyola University in Chicago. The seminary chapel included a sculpture of St. John the Baptist created by Young. The sculpture had meaning for the seminarians because they were told that John the Baptist, who pointed not to himself but always to Jesus, was a model for the priesthood.

When Bishop Tylka graduated, his parents gave him a small replica of the sculpture. It hangs in his office at the Spalding Pastoral Center.

Years later, when Bishop Tylka was pastor at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park, he commissioned Young to create an image of the Holy Family. That 2016 sculpture, featuring young Jesus holding a Scripture passage from Deuteronomy — “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” — as Mary and Joseph look from behind, has been replicated for the retreat center.

In mid-July, Deacon Terry Stalsberg, executive director of Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center, and Phil Lee, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship — traveled with professional movers to Young’s home and studio in a rural, wooded area north of Detroit. The sculptures were lovingly packed for transportation to Magnolia.


The sculpture of St. Thérèse of Lisieux — and roses — crafted by Suzanne Young. (Provided photo)

“I think it’s fantastic they have built a retreat center,” said Young. “A place for people to come and be spiritually uplifted in their growth . . . I think that’s phenomenal.” She hopes the statues “are an inspiration for prayer, because that’s why I create religious work.”

Young said the statue of St. Thérèse is personal to her for an additional reason. While finishing it in January, she took ill with COVID-19, collapsing on her studio floor with fever and coughing. Treated with antibody infusions, she recovered quickly, but has a lingering fatigue.

“It really slowed me down, but actually did me a favor,” said Young. She explained that she was at the point where she was creating the roses held by the saint. Because of the fatigue, she could only create one rose a day. She appreciated each one.

“I would think, ‘Dear God, the beauty of your flowers and how you made them,’” she recalled.

Young, who has a master of fine arts degree in sculpture from Eastern Michigan University and is now in her late 60s, is grateful for both the commission and her recovery.

“Evidently I’ve still got God’s work to do,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here for a related story about the sacred art at the diocese’s new Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center.

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