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Building a Bridge to the Future

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

Saint Francis Sculpture Garden Enters Phase II of Development, Connecting East-To-West

Mic Carlson and wife, Susan Evangelista, Basilica of Saint Clare, Assisi, Italy
Mic Carlson and wife, Susan Evangelista, Basilica of Saint Clare, Assisi, Italy

Eighteen years ago, a young sculptor from Grand Rapids, Michigan was invited to exhibit his creation of 16 bronze sculptures depicting the life of Saint Francis at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy. Mic Carlson was the first American Sculptor to be invited to exhibit his statues in this 800 year old Basilica where the remains of Francis are conserved. During the feast of Francis on October 4, and all through the month of October in 2004, Mic shared his creations with a thousand people a day. He took it all in, sauntering the same streets, fields, and caverns where Francis shared his universal message of love.

Mic became impassioned and this was only the beginning of what sparked his vision that would eventually become the Saint Francis Sculpture Garden (SFSG) in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This spark ignited in 2010 through a generous partnership with the Dominican Sisters of Marywood, giving the garden a home on 11-acres of wooded property. For the past 12 years, nature trails and sculpture sites were built and created. Beautiful landscaping was added, along with benches and stories of Francis etched in stone. 2021 saw the installation of all sixteen original bronze sculptures that were exhibited in Assisi, Italy into the garden. In this same year, a seventeenth sculpture was added, the Canticles of the Creatures, along with the restoration of the stone Grotto. But the vision doesn’t stop there, and another phase of expansion is about to begin.

Until now, the garden has been land-locked to the east side due to a small creek running through the middle of the property. In 2022, we secured approval from the State of Michigan (and environmental organizations) to build a bridge connecting east-to-west. The bridge will continue our commitment for the garden trails to be completely disability accessible (ADA compliant). Structurally, it will be 6-feet wide and span 150-feet, made mostly of wood, using eco-friendly helical technology. In the middle, we’ve created an alcove to highlight a special bronze sculpture honoring the friendship of St. Francis and St. Dominic; a nod of respect and gratitude to our partnership with the Dominican Sisters. Each side of the bridge will be landscaped to match the beauty of the nature trails.

The bridge is designed by Grand Rapidian, Greg Metz of Lott3Metz Architecture, and built by Grand Rapids crew, Erhardt Construction, led by Aaron Mead.

Mic Carlson, Aaron Mead, and Greg Metz discussing bridge development for SFSG
Mic Carlson, Aaron Mead, and Greg Metz discussing bridge development for SFSG

The total cost of the full bridge project, including materials, construction, ¾-life-size bronze sculpture of St. Francis and St. Dominic, and beautification of each landing areas is $250,000. Through many generous donors, we’ve secured more than half the funds, enough to initiate construction in spring 2023. We’re hoping for a March groundbreaking ceremony with a May ribbon cutting.


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