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Food For Your Soul

Joseph Sibbel


Stations of the Cross, Jesus in Condemned to death, located in Motherhouse chapel.

Joseph Sibbel was born on June 7, 1850, in Dulmen, Germany to Joseph Sibbel and Anna Suchefleisch. As a child, he had a talent of whittling small ornaments and figures from wood. This attracted the attention of his teachers and they suggested he study in Munster, Westphalia. The academic and artistic center, which was under the wood carver Friedrich A. Ewertz, was about 25-30 miles away from his home. It was here that Sibbel developed a skill for ecclesiastical sculpture. He would further his studies in the summer by modeling clay in the workshop of Theodore William Achtermann, a noted German sculptor.

In 1873 Sibbel immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he joined several other artists from his home country in the same workshop to work with wood. When this failed, Sibbel tried secular sculpture with a certain Rebisso; this also failed. Sibbel moved to New York where he established a studio which would house many of his works. During this time, Sibbel was confronted with competing with the mechanical manufacture of pseudo-art, which the churches were purchasing. His first piece was a lectern, cast in bronze, for the Episcopal Stewart Memorial Cathedral in Garden City, Long Island. Sibbel broke loose from the ordinary by placing religious groups in front of the stand. This started him on a journey of artistic fame, which would lead him back to Cincinnati and the Sisters of Charity.


Marian Altar created by Sibbel where Barnhorn’s St. Joseph statue is located.

Altar created by Sibbel where Barnhorn’s Blessed Virgin statue rests.

In 1901, the Cincinnati-born friendships and artistic talents of William Lamprecht, Clement Barnhorn and Sibbel himself, while under the supervision of Adolphe Druiding and Mother Sebastian Shea, united to produce our beautiful Motherhouse chapel. Sibbel created an altar where Barnhorn’s Blessed Virgin statue rests. He also created the Marian altar where Barnhorn’s St. Joseph statue is located. The chapel also houses a set of Stations of the Cross which were executed by Sibbel in alabaster. One in particular holds a special design. On Station 1, Jesus is Condemned to Death, on the end of Pilate’s armchair is a lion’s head. Sibbel made other Stations, but never added the lion’s head to any other works. 

Sibbel continued to sculpt until his last year of life. Starting in 1903, he suffered from bronchitis and had to take a leave of absence. His health continued to deteriorate and in 1906, he completed many of his commissions before he left for Europe to purchase more material for two more projects. He returned to New York and worked on the statuary for St. Thomas the Apostle Church then traveled to Vermont. Here he went to the Barre Granit Quarry to work on the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in St. Charles, Missouri. On July 5, 1907, Sibbel was admitted into the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital for a minor operation due to sinusitis. He died on July 10, 1907, from pneumonia in both lungs. 
           
Sibbel’s work has brought about beauty and grace in many churches. In 2011, Delma Tallerico wrote a book about Sibbel called Beauty Dreamer: The Life and Times of Joseph Sibbel. This book tells his life story and has a section dedicated to the Sisters of Charity and Mother Sebastian Shea, who was Mother Superior at the time.

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