There’s a pitstop in every Fairfield University admissions tour. You might have noticed it on yours, or you could’ve been too nervous, focusing instead on how your preppy tour guide in khaki shorts has this much energy at 9:00 a.m. Regardless, there’s a pause halfway between the Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Hall and the Quad. You all group around, tight and together in pre-COVID-19 times, and look upwards to a majestic being looking over campus, the stag statue.
Your tour guide will say something like, “Okay y’all,” and begin walking you through things that this statue does for campus. They’ll say that seniors will hop on to “ride the Stag” or even first-year students in the middle of the night before Department of Public Safety officers see.
They’ll continue and say something along the lines of how this is the most photographed spot on campus. Reading this article, you’re now probably thinking about that awkward, sweaty move-in day photo you took, blushing and all embarrassed that your mom even wanted to take a picture. But, just a few years later you’ll beg her to take hundreds of pictures of you all decked out in your cap and gown, holding back tears of either leaving this place permanently, or the fact that you don’t really have a job lined up yet.
Whatever the reason, the tour guide will make you feel like this statue is as much a part of campus as the library, dining hall or residence halls. The stag statue is a seemingly permanent fixture for campus, but it’s actually only been here for 11 years, celebrating its anniversary on Oct. 23.
When the stag arrived on campus 11 years ago, it was a big deal. I wasn’t here, obviously. I was nine years old and probably getting ready to trick-or-treat, dressed as someone all of my peers just had to know, Annette Funicello. But, if you were on campus 11 years ago, there would’ve been a campus wide picnic followed by a parade, where the University pep band would play, as all athletic teams, cheerleaders, the Lucas the Stag mascot and the statue cheered and cheered from Loyola Drive to Gonzaga Hall.
Once at the hall, the glee club stood and sang the national anthem and the alma mater. Then, the Fairfield University Student Association and athletics members unveiled the statue in front of everyone’s excited eyes. The stag statue was then blessed by one of the Jesuits and then bam, it became a permanent fixture on campus.
It was apparently a long time coming. Robert J. Brennan Jr., past president of Fairfield’s alumni association, was quoted in a magazine at the time saying, “It is something I’ve wanted on Fairfield University’s campus for decades,” but it appears to have taken quite a long time to secure the appropriate funding, with many anonymous donors stepping up and chipping in.
The one who seems to have the most pride for the statue, then and now, is James Fitzpatrick, or Mr. Fitz as he’s called by most of the student body, who is the assistant vice president at Fairfield. After the stag had just been put up, he said, “It’s a source of pride in terms of our school mascot. We’re excited this project, which started in the mid-1960s, has finally come true.”
When I asked him what he thinks about it now, he told me he had two things to say, a funny thing and a more serious thing.
The funny thing was in regards to the statue being just a few days early. Flying all the way from the artist’s home, J.C. Dye, in Stanford, Mont., timing seems to have been tricky. Not wanting to spoil the surprise of the students seeing it early, the logical place was parking it in Fitzpatrick’s driveway. You’d think it’d be an eye sore to the neighborhood, and someone from some association would call him to move it, but by the time it was ready to be moved to its permanent spot, his neighbors didn’t want it to leave.
He noted, in a more serious tone, “When I first saw the Lucas statue in person, I had goosebumps. My wife and myself walk the campus early in the morning and when I walk by Lucas daily, I still get those same goosebumps! Go Stags!”
Most students on campus still hold the same love of the stag statue. Meghan Cusack ‘21 said, “It holds a lot of memories over the years, from meeting up with friends in front of it to taking pictures with family.”
She continued, saying that there’s even family lineage.
“It was really special to get a picture with my sister and grandfather in front of the statue. My grandfather graduated from the third graduating class at Fairfield in 1953,” Cusack shared. “He always loves to talk about when he went here so it was nice to have him back on campus, and the statue is a permanent part of our memories.”
However, some worry that the statue won’t always be a permanent fixture of our campus. After telling Maurice Rose, Ph.D. of the art history department that I was writing an article about the stag statue’s 11th birthday, she urged me to mention the damage.
The damage she was referring to was apparently to the foundation of the statue, as it has said to have been harmed by the students climbing it over the years, and has been replaced and stabilized since it’s unveiling.
Katherine Schwab Ph.D., also of the art history department, sent an email to all art history faculty members urging them to warn their students of the statue’s damage.
“Obviously, dangers abound. As impossible as it might seem, what if the stag were to fall over and crush a student? Or, a student falls off the stag hitting his/her head on the stone or ground?” she said.
Schwab believes that this should all be brought up to urge students away from climbing the statue.
But, I think, even without climbing the statue or actually touching it, this 12-foot bronze in the center of campus seems to have an effect on all of us.
It just leaves me thinking about the hundreds, or probably thousands, of photos with young and old students, and non-students, standing in front of the statue, eyes shining as they throw out an excited, “Go stags!” with their hands in the air in the stags-up position, with their thumb holding their middle fingers and their pointer and pinky fingers up to form the antlers of the stag.
I can’t help but think of the next Mirror writer who pens up the story celebrating the stag statue’s 20th birthday, or maybe even it’s 50th. Years and years will go by before any of us even remember a time before that statue stood tall, looking over us all.