BRODHEADSVILLE – Eight years after grabbing headlines around the world for building a model Vatican out of 500,000 Lego bricks, Father Bob Simon is back at it.
This time, the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville just completed a replica of the University of Notre Dame’s iconic Main Building and Golden Dome on April 26, 2023.
“To be invited by the University and by the Notre Dame family to do this is something that my heart is really all in on and was a delight to work on,” Father Simon said.
Father Simon initially received the request from the University in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed his ability to get the project done quickly but still estimates spending roughly eight months working on it overall.
While Father Simon admits he didn’t keep an exact count, he estimates using around 300,000 Lego bricks this time.
“In the windows alone, the blinds and the windows and the glass in it, there are 60-some bricks in each of the 300-plus windows,” he explained. “There’s a total in the windows, just inside them, over 25,000 bricks for that and over 70,000 tan bricks around the exterior of the building.”
‘GOLDEN’ OPPORTUNITY TO HONOR MARY
As a Notre Dame alumnus, Father Simon immediately recognized the challenge of creating the iconic Golden Dome.
“That is the part I was afraid of,” Father Simon joked. “Unlike the dome I did for Saint Peter’s Basilica, it doesn’t have ribbing and I was very afraid of it because it is 1800s architecture that I’m not so familiar with but I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”
After being afraid of building the dome for a long time, Father Simon admits it came together in just a couple of days.
The University of Notre Dame also helped to ensure that Mary was honored properly in the display.
“Notre Dame created her statue on a 3D printer. It is an exact replica of the statue on the top. I gave them the size that I wanted and it fits perfectly right on top, because I gave them the scale,” Father Simon explained.
While many might assume creating the Golden Dome was the hardest part of the project, Father Simon says that is not the case.
“The math was definitely the problem, making sure everything was proportional,” he said. “In particular, what really gave me trouble was the roof. The roof is quite elaborate and trying to make sure the math was all right with the roof and the structure itself was probably the most difficult part.”
CAPTURING THE ‘ESSENCE’ OF THE BUILDING
While Father Simon is dwarfed by the size of his massive Lego creation, he smiles when admitting the building itself is not often what most people make comments about.
“As much as the structure is impressive, what people probably spend more time looking at are the human interest details,” he explained. “The people wearing Notre Dame attire which the university helped me out with some graphics. If students don’t tie their bicycle up, it gets placed in a tree, people delighted at seeing that.
The ‘ring at spring’ proposals happening on campus, I have one of those represented, and the squirrels and golf carts that are on campus. There are even little robots that deliver food from the cafeteria and the restaurants on campus now so I’m going to make sure there is one of those in the scene as well, just to be very current.”
While Father Simon’s love of Lego sets started around the age of five, as a priest, he believes there is a deep connection between the playful and prayerful parts of this project.
“I’ve realized that building something like this with Lego is a real invitation to contemplation, to mediation, to prayer, it is sort of like the Rosary,” Father Simon explained. “While your hands are busy, your mind and your heart can be elsewhere… I realized the building is in the shape of a Cross with the longest arm of any Cross I’ve ever seen, which seems to represent Father (Edward) Sorin’s vision for the university.”
The Poconos pastor continued, “Just like when praying the Rosary, one contemplates the mysteries and there is really the beauty of the architecture and the vision of the founder that comes alive and is something to really mediate on.”
UNIVERSITY TO SHOWCASE MASTERPIECE
While much of the Lego construction took place in the living room of Father Simon’s rectory, the final construction took place on the University of Notre Dame campus in conjunction with ‘Notre Dame Day’ on April 26, 2023. On that day, the campus community comes together to celebrate the University and raise money by telling stories of students, professors and alumni.
Father Simon was featured in seven live broadcasts as the Lego creation came to completion.
“I feel great about the fact that it is finished, I feel great about the fact that it will be here at the University of Notre Dame,” Father Simon said in his final television segment.
The Lego creation will be permanently located in McKenna Hall, which hosts conferences and special events and is used to welcome prospective students and visitors.
“I’m grateful for the University and the impact it has made in my life,” Father Simon ended by saying.