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Angels Welcome All To The Garden Of Sorrow And Joy

The Garden of Sorrow and Joy at St. Peter Parish in Montgomery occupies the space between St. Peter Church and the parish rectory. Aerial photo by Allen Brown/special to The Message

The more I researched the background for this story, the more I saw God at work – especially through His angels.

“Be sure you take a picture of the stained-glass window from inside,” St. Peter, Montgomery, parishioner Greg Traylor urged when I went to the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on July 30 and stayed for the dedication of the parish’s new Garden of Sorrow and Joy. “You’ll understand why when you hear the story.”

Two stunning bronze sculptures featuring angels, the works of Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, are prominent in the garden. They should be for a number of reasons.

Among them – Schmalz is the creator of the “Homeless Jesus” sculpture – aka “Jesus the Homeless” – that calls visitors to the Office of Papal Charities in Vatican City – and all – to reach out to the marginalized. It is one of several “Jesus the Homeless” sculptures Schmalz has created for display across the world, including at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s office of Catholic Charities.

Beautifully landscaped, the Garden of Sorrow and Joy also features a votive candle in a holder that St. Peter Pastor Father Jim Koressel received when his mother died. The parish intends to keep the candle lit 24/7.

As he dedicated the garden after the July 30 Mass, Father Koressel noted that the Garden of Sorrow and Joy is meant to be place of prayer and peaceful meditation for everyone. “It is a place where people who have suffered the loss of a friend or family member can come to grieve,” he said. “And it is a place where we can contemplate the joy of eternal life.”

About the artist and his work

Traylor first learned about Schmalz and his work during a visit to his sister and brother-in-law several years ago.

“Our family suffered a loss several years ago when my sister’s daughter passed away right before she was to start the first grade,” Traylor explained. He and his wife were the child’s godparents, so they shared intimately in the sense of loss and grief.  “When my wife and I stopped to visit (his sister and her family), and I noticed a small table sculpture that a friend had given them.”

Schmalz had created that sculpture. “My sister suggested that I visit Timothy’s website and see what all he had created,” Traylor recalled.  “The next day, I did just that – and saw for the first time the sculpture of the Guardian Angel weeping over an empty crib.  I fell in love with it, but something seemed to be missing; so I didn’t go any further.”

Years passed – until the day Traylor and his wife were driving home from Evansville along I-69 with their granddaughter.

“As we drove past the white crosses along 69, our granddaughter spoke up and said she knew what happen to all those babies,” Traylor said.  “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Bella … tell us what happen to them.’  In her soft voice she said, ‘they all turned into baby angels!’

“At that moment, I remembered the Guardian Angel leaning over the crib,” Traylor said.  “The next day, I went back to the website – and that’s when I saw the second sculpture of the Guardian Angel taking the child (up to Heaven). 

“I called the studio in Canada and talked to Timothy’s assistant,” Traylor said.  “I explained what had happened and that I would like to know what the cost would be.  He asked for which one; I told him for both. I told him that one was not complete without the other; and together, they both tell the complete story.  

“One sculpture we can all relate to as it illustrates the end of life as we know it,” Traylor added, “and the other illustrates the beginning of new life as only God knows it.”

In that moment, the St. Peter Parish Garden of Sorrow and Joy was born.

Traylor took the idea to St. Peter Pastor Father Jim Koressel and then to the parish council in 2016. Dedication occurred roughly 18 months after those initial discussions.

About that stained-glass window

The beautifully landscaped garden occupies a fairly large area between St. Peter Church and the parish rectory. The angel sculptures enjoy special placement there, which brings us to that stained-glass window and the reason Traylor urged me to shoot it for this story in The Message.

“When we were looking for a location to place the sculptures of the Guardian Angels, we considered several different areas,” Traylor explained.  One day, I received a phone call from the designer who was helping with the project.  He explained that he and the landscape architect were back at the church again to rethink some of our options. 

“He said that they both had a ‘God moment,’ Traylor continued. “As they were standing outside the church, they both looked up at the same time and noticed a stained-glass window.  The window that was ‘looking down’ at them was the Guardian Angel window.  That window had been imported from Italy and placed in the church more than 121 years ago.  They said as the hair on their arms stood up, they knew that the window was intended to be the backdrop of the Garden. 

“God must have had this Garden in mind over 121 years ago.”

All are welcome

During the blessing and dedication ceremony, and in recent emails with The Message, Father Koressel has emphasized that all are welcome to visit the Garden of Sorrow and Joy. “People of every place and faith are welcome to visit any time they are in the area,” he said.

Many engraved pavers were already in place when Father Koressel blessed and dedicated the garden, and more spots are available. “Anyone may purchase a paver to remember someone they have loved and who now is a citizen of Heaven,” he said.

For information on pavers, contact the St. Peter Parish office at 812-486-3149 or