How an American Protestant Fell In Love with Sacred Art, the Faith and a Beautiful Woman in Europe’s Culture Capital
Cody Swanson is 30 years old. Once upon a time he was an evangelical protestant living in Hawaii. How he came to teach sculpture at the Sacred Art School of Florence is a long, strange trip indeed – the kind of story that only a master story-crafter like God Himself could write.
“I WAS VERY FORTUNATE TO GROW UP ON THE ISLAND OF MAUI; my father was a helicopter pilot and decided to bring my mother and I there in search of year –round work flying. Our household was Christian and we did attend Church regularly, mostly Pentecostal denominations.” Cody Swanson
“AT A YOUNG AGE I BECAME DRAWN TO THE ARTISTIC TRADITIONS OF THE WEST, primarily the Renaissance, and left Hawaii at 18 in search for classical training in painting and sculpture, which ultimately led me to the Florence Academy of Art. I studied there for three years and upon graduation became a member of the teaching faculty. Shortly after my conversion I also received a Masters with my wife at the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, focusing on Liturgy, Sacred Art and Architecture.” – Cody Swanson
“IT’S EASY FOR A FOREIGN ART STUDENT TO BECOME SOMEWHAT ISOLATED and I drifted from any kind of Christian fellowship, which caused deep spiritual hunger. I then received a huge wakeup call in the form of a life-threatening accident: In 2005 I was hit by a speeding car, and having suffered a severe head injury, I woke up in intensive care with complete memory loss. Unable to recall anything I was overwhelmed with fear, yet noticed a crucifix over the door. Not able to remember who I was, I remembered Christ and His perfect sacrifice. Eventually my memory did return and I knew that Christ had to be in the center of my life.” — Cody Swanson
”SHORTLY AFTER, I MET MY FUTURE WIFE ALINA AT THE FLORENCE ACADEMY who was raised with little Christian formation. I made it my duty to introduce her to the gospel. By the grace of God we then met several devout Catholics and they introduced us to a wonderful priest of Opus Dei named Father Robin Weatherill. With his spiritual direction we began to study the Catechisms and a year later were both baptized and married in the Duomo by His Eminence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori.” – Cody Swanson
REGINA: You were both baptized and married in the Duomo! Fantastic!
CODY: Both our fathers were present. Alina’s father was a lapsed Catholic, and had not been to Mass or confession in 40 years. His delight in her conversion compelled him to confess and receive the Eucharist with us.
My father initially opposed my conversion and struggled with many personal issues, though after months of intense theological debate he was so struck by the presence of the Holy Spirit during the Divine action of the Liturgy that shortly after our baptism he decided he wanted to convert. His own baptism was invalid so a year later, having studied the catechisms, he was baptized with my first-born child in the Duomo, again with His Eminence Cardinal Betori.
We pray a great deal for our mothers and I’m overwhelmed with joy that this year after reading the book, Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, my mother has started studying the catechism and would like to enter into the Catholic Church…just one more mother to go!
“I’ve now been in Florence for 12 consecutive years and teaching for eight. Italy is incredibly rich with history and beauty, it never ceases to amaze me how many important churches one finds in even the most remote places. There is unfortunately a deep recession and a serious demographic crisis, but being in a Catholic country you can attend Mass daily within a blocks’ distance and have all the more reason to pray.” – Cody Swanson
“Art is absolutely essential for evangelization together with the Sacred Liturgy.” – Cody Swanson
REGINA: What role did Christian art play in your conversion?
CODY: Christian art has been an educational tool for centuries and helped even the most uneducated members of society learn the essentials of the faith. Sacred and Liturgical art however are not merely pedagogical, but a material means by which we offer up thanksgiving in showing what is truly present, but hidden; reinforcing the divine action of the Holy Spirit and ultimately encouraging prayer and meditation upon these mysteries of our faith and salvation.
Consequently, the passion shared by my wife and I for sacred art brought us to spend a great deal of time in Churches throughout Italy and France; as Christ draws all unto Himself, it was the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist that drew us into full communion with Christ and His Church.
“IN OUR SECULARIZED, RELATIVISTIC WORLD FULL OF SUPERFICIAL SELF -GRATIFICATION, I firmly believe that many from the younger generations are fed up with all the emptiness, and by genuinely searching for truth become attracted to tradition.” – Cody Swanson
“WE’VE HAD STUDENTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, but the majority have been Italian typically within a younger age group. I actually get asked a lot if you must be a Catholic for acceptance and of course, this is not a requirement but we ask that students are at least interested in Catholicism and attend the pertaining lessons.” – Cody Swanson
“THE TRANSCENDENT BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH, which through art reflects its salvific character, remains a bright beacon to many.” – Cody Swanson
PHOTO CREDIT: REGINA STAFF