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A place for reflection

Unique sculpture garden located near Vesta

By Patricia Buschette

“Carrying the Cross” is one of the sculptures that can be found in the countryside near Vesta, Minn. The sculptures were the idea of Michael Dolan and the area around them is maintained by the Dolan family. Photo by Michael Dolan

Michael Dolan’s roots grow deep into Redwood County soil where his family has lived for generations. Several acres of farmland southwest of Vesta, Minnesota, remain in the Dolan family. Those roots grew into a desire to create a site of inspiration and reflection honoring the values he learned at an early age.

It has been many years since Michael Dolan moved on to a successful career in management, but the roots of his spiritual heritage have remained with him. Grandpa John Dolan and Grandma Mary Dolan provided the inspiration that has endured throughout the years. That inspiration is exemplified by a shrine to Mary, the Mother of God, constructed by his grandparents on the site of the first Catholic Church in the western part of Redwood County. Our Lady of Victories, established in 1898, provided a place of worship for Catholics before the communities of Lucan, Milroy, and Vesta were established.

“I started thinking of the idea of a sculpture garden in 2007,” he said. “I thought of land I own southwest of Vesta. I could just visualize a crucifix there . . . not a cemetery crucifix of traditional granite and stone one often sees in cemeteries. I wanted something unique.”

“My wife and I were coming back from Arizona and I was driving on the interstate. Suddenly Cela exclaimed, ‘There it is! It’s up there! We have to stop.’”

“Stopping on a freeway is not easy” he said, and added, “We pulled over a mile or two down the road. Just outside of Omaha, on a hill off Interstate 80, we visited the Holy Family Shrine.”

Michael’s wife immediately made the connection, “That is the one you want there,” she said. After some inquiry, it was learned that the sculptor was Michael Montag from Omaha. A connection was made, and then an agreement.

It was necessary to obtain a building permit for the crucifix, and Michael quickly became acquainted with the zoning restrictions of Redwood County. The structure could not be more than 35 feet high. Thus, the crucifix was constructed and installed the summer of 2016, and measured 34 feet.

It is the strong faith passed down through generations of the family that has informed and inspired Michael. His Catholic faith is evident as he uses the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary to tell the story of his faith. In place are The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and The Crucifixion and Death, represented by the 34-foot-high crucifix. The figure of Christ measures 7 feet, and with the base and other elements, the statues are 12-15 feet high.

Close up of “Scourging at the Pillar.” Photo by Michael Dolan

The statues are created in three steps, first in clay, then wax, and finally bronze. The bronze is poured into the form at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. It is, as Michael said, “A true labor of love.”

The First Sorrowful Mystery, The Agony in the Garden, will be erected later this summer.

In addition to the sculptures, there is ongoing beautification of the site with shrubs and plants. Members of the family have adopted the site and added their own touches including the guest register and signage. A patch of switchgrass may be added to the site later.

“I don’t want to micromanage or influence where things are,” he said in regard to the contributions of others. “I just want the site to be as natural as possible; the stations are on a meandering trail and I would like to maintain a natural setting,” he said.

The sculpture that Michael said is the most meaningful for him, the Carrying of the Cross, is the fourth sorrowful mystery.

“After each sculpture, I was motivated to get ready for the next,” Michael said. The final sculpture will be installed in late summer of 2023.

Michael is adamant that while the inspiration for this place of reflection is his Catholic faith, all faiths are encouraged to find a place of reflection and peace.

“We all have matters we need to work through,” he said, so he offers to all this place of peace and quiet. Park benches are scattered throughout the three-acre site, allowing for comfort to contemplate one’s life.

The park provides a place for all denominations to worship. The Lutheran Church in Wabasso has celebrated Easter in the park, and youth groups have come for their activities. “I know that the Mysteries of the Rosary are a Catholic tradition, but I truly hope this park can be a place of refuge and contemplation for all faiths, truly ecumenical,” Michael said.

A member of the family, an administrator of Heritage Point Senior Living in Marshall, brought a group of residents to experience the setting. Youth and elderly alike are captivated by the setting, and all are welcomed.

Why did Dolan pick this location?

“I own the farmland at the curve about 3 ½ miles southwest of Vesta in Redwood County, where Highway 19 turns before it proceeds directly west on its way to Marshall, just about one-half the distance between Redwood Falls and Marshall. I thought about erecting something on that curve which might be as meaningful as the shrine my grandparents erected honoring the first Catholic church in western Redwood County, located just four miles south from the Reflection Park. People become aware of the park by word-of-mouth. It is a landmark where there is not much on the prairie.”

“Through this process, I keep in mind that I am just the patron and Michael Montag is the artist. I don’t irritate,” he said explaining his artistic relationship with the sculptor. “I had only one instruction. The figures must all look alike. I want the same facial features and I want the same size.” It is his intent that visitors see the progression of movement.” His overriding intention is that the garden will become a place where people can reflect.

A registry shows visitors from all over the country have stopped by to reflect at the sculpture garden.

The extended Dolan family has, in many ways, adopted the sculpture garden, and has taken on the responsibility of making the site as attractive and amenable to visitors as possible. His brother Kenny, who lives in Marshall, visits the site frequently to make certain all is in order.

There have been many visitors to the site. Kenny built a register where guests may leave their names. Visitors have stopped from South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado, and many other states.

A successful career followed a degree from St. Thomas in business administration, with an emphasis on accounting. Michael was employed in St. Paul. He served as the CEO of Smead Mfg. in Hastings, Minn., did consulting work, and served on the board of Fastenal company, a distributor of wide-ranging industrial and construction products.

He also served on the board of a Polish Brewery, and from late 2004 to spring 2005, helped run the business, frequently traveling to Poland. Now retired, he and his wife Cela live in Spicer on Green Lake, and spend winters in Arizona.

Retirement has given him the opportunity to travel, and he speaks with great enthusiasm of his return trips to Ireland to explore his family roots. A student of history, he plans to earn a master’s in history

at Arizona State University to continue his interest in world history. While in Minnesota, he makes frequent trips to this special place that is so reflective of his faith and his heritage.

No decisions have been made as to the preservation of Reflection Park after Michael’s death, and options are being considered so that the physical site and inspiration remain for years to come.

Why would one go through the expense and personal commitment to build such a site? For Michael Dolan, it is a matter of sharing his faith.

“I hope travelers and visitors of all faiths passing by might be motivated to stop for a few minutes to reflect on the really important things that should be the focus for all of us,” he said.

Right: “Crowning of Thorns” is one of the large sculptures brought to the area by Michael Dolan. Photos by Patricia Buschette

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