By Mary-Catherine Scarlett, BA ’21
Nestled in the wooded foothills of Irving, Texas, an unassuming Marian shrine welcomes faithful passersby and prayerful visitors at all times of the day and night. The location is not the only obscure part of this statue. Its history has been only sparsely documented — until now. An alumnus with an inspiration, a chance meeting at a conference, a faculty connection to a religious artist, and the generosity and effort of countless benefactors contributed to the creation of this sacred space.
Shrouded on one side by succulents, stones and shrubs, and backdropped on the other by the majestic sunrise, the bronze statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the University of Dallas campus, located next to the Art Village, serves as a peaceful haven of reflection for the students and faculty who frequent it.
Although the first conversations about creating a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother at UD began in 1997, the real story begins in December 1531 with the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to a middle-aged peasant on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. The woman clothed in royal Aztec garments instructed the humble villager, known now as St. Juan Diego, to pick miraculously blooming roses, wrap them in his tilma (cloak), and carry them to his bishop. When Juan Diego spilled the roses onto the floor, the bishop and onlookers were amazed, not by the fresh flowers, but by the Marian image on his tilma.
Some parts of this rich history stand out as especially extraordinary. Because the Aztec people worshipped the sun, the image shows the rays of the sun shining behind Our Lady, indicating her power over the natural elements. Further, she stands on the moon, another god worshipped in Juan Diego’s home country. The only four-petaled flower, which represents the highest god in the Aztec pantheon, rests directly over her womb on her tunic. This detail, which symbolizes the omnipotence of Christ over all other forms of deities, is preserved in the UD shrine’s representation of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The inception of the Marian shrine began with the Class of 1997’s senior gift of a marble Mary statue, which ultimately found its home outside the Church of the Incarnation. However, it was in 2011 that Andrew Farley, BA ’99 — after the prompting of a priest friend — initiated the conversation with UD’s former President Thomas W. Keefe about a place on campus specially dedicated to the Blessed Mother. “We went back and forth for about two years,” Farley said, “until one Sunday morning, Mr. Keefe surprised me after Mass.” Keefe had spoken to Bishop (now Cardinal) Kevin Farrell, then the chancellor of UD, who had requested that they dedicate the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is patroness of the Americas and of the Dallas Diocese. Farley’s response: “Great! Let’s do it!”
A providential meeting set into motion a beautiful cascade of events that led to the construction of this Guadalupe shrine. In October 2013, Farley attended the University of Dallas Ministry Conference. There, he met Monsignor Eduardo Chavez, who is a canon of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Thus followed a meeting between Chavez, Keefe, Farley, members of the UD Advancement team, and Pia Septien, MTS ’04, coordinator of Spanish language programs in the Neuhoff Institute of Ministry and Evangelization and a Mexico City native who is acquainted with Chavez.
The fruits of this meeting were the joint resolution to — in Septien’s words — build not just “a piece of art in a garden, but … a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe so people would get to know the mystery of Maria de Guadalupe.” Farley echoed, “The decision was made early on that we were going to do this right.”
According to Septien, those initial meetings were only the first step; the second was to find the artist to create the shrine. Septien acted as a translator on multiple occasions and accompanied Keefe to Mexico City. On that trip, they were gifted with the stone from Tepeyac Hill, as a sign of blessing for the shrine, which currently graces Haggar University Center. Additionally, Septien introduced a personal connection of hers, Jaime Dominuez, to the project.
A full-time sacred artist based in Mexico, Dominguez most notably restored the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. When Septien asked Dominguez one morning whether he would accept the project, he requested time to ask Jesus and Our Lady for their guidance at the midday Mass. Thankfully, he discerned that he was called to create the statue and began prayerfully planning the shrine.
Dominguez was so committed to the project that he visited UD several times, including once on Dec. 12, 2014, so he could find a spot to place Our Lady’s statue where the sun would rise directly behind her back on her feast day. The statue includes many elements present on the tilma, including the eight-pointed stars on Our Lady’s mantle, the belt around her waist, which indicates pregnancy, and the angel holding her up, representing her royal status.
However, Dominguez also wanted to integrate elements of Texas’ culture into the shrine. Rather than the traditional sunburst pattern behind the Virgin of Guadalupe, he fashioned an iron mesquite tree that evokes a distinctly Texan aesthetic while honoring the original image. His dedication to crafting a shrine unique to Texas extended even to the seating: After visiting Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey to see the Austin stone from which the abbey is built, Dominguez chose Austin stone for the natural pews at the shrine.
Dominguez considered locations all over campus, but Septien said he settled on the current location after considering that it would form “a triangle between the Tower, the Tabernacle and where she’s placed,” indicating how integral the sacraments and Marian devotion are to the university. As Septien said, “It’s much more than just a statue there!”
Fundraising for such a project raised its own challenges, but the amount of generosity shown by donors — even by one construction worker in California with no connection to UD — proved sufficient to complete this noble task. In January 2015, the architects broke ground for the site. The owner of a construction company whose daughter attended UD, Luis Spinola, was tasked with stabilizing the faulty Irving soil at the shrine so that the statue wouldn’t lean or fall down. While he “wasn’t as concerned with being a decision maker,” Farley explained that “the university was generous in asking me to review decisions and work with the team to synthesize everyone’s ideas.” By April of that year, the statue was installed, and in May the shrine was dedicated by Bishop Daniel Flores, BA '83 MDiv '87.
Farley journeyed through every step of this worthy undertaking with a persevering yet humble trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. “It was a real journey for me,” Farley said. “I knew very little about Our Lady of Guadalupe before this project … the Guadalupe events really opened my eyes to the significance of the apparition, particularly for us in the Americas. The message of Guadalupe is Love, Humility, Purity and Trust, all things humanity needs to flourish.”
Of all the memorable aspects to this story, Farley mentioned the stone from Tepeyac Hill as a highlight.
“We will never know if Our Lady walked on this exact stone or not, but the fact that it is from the apparition site is enough!” Farley also reflected on the fact that “the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the only image we have that is not interpreted by humanity.”
What the University of Dallas possesses on its small Irving campus is far more than simply a statue surrounded by cacti, plaques and the occasional Art Village cat. It is a true shrine — a place to connect with the Patroness of the Americas and her Divine Son. A place to treat as sacred, to contemplate the mystery of the Mother of God, and to spend quiet minutes at sunrise on one cold December day each year to witness the vision of the statue becoming clothed in the sun.