What “Le Phoque”?
Every student has a similar memory in Donnelly Hall: waiting for friends in the main lobby before a night out. At least one of those times, every student has thought to themselves, “Wait, that’s not a fox. That’s a seal. Why is there a statue of a seal in the lobby garden of Donnelly Hall?” The history of this statue was, literally, lost in translation.
Donnelly Hall is one of the oldest academic buildings on campus. The Marist Archives have a treasure trove worth of photos depicting Marist Brothers and students from a bygone era walking the famous round hallways. The circular building was thought to be the epicenter of the student experience at Marist College. When contractors were putting the finishing touches on the building, they considered one final detail that would elevate Marist’s status as a college: a school seal.
It does not matter if the college is Harvard, Iowa State University, Washington College or the Catholic University of America, every one of these institutions has a school seal somewhere on campus. And to quote every college tour guide to ever exist, “Legend has it, if you step on the seal, you will not graduate.”
As the framework of Marist College was being developed, a school seal was to be placed in the lobby of Donnelly Hall, thus establishing Marist as a legit college. So, the contractors commissioned a French artist by the name of Anton Jean-Pierre Hugo Lefebvre, “Pete,” for short.
The standard contractor in Poughkeepsie, NY, during the 1950s was not adept in the language of love (French, for all you who thought it was Italian). Through the means of a pocket English-French dictionary, the contractors asked for a “phoque, et un grand phoque, aussi.”
In French, “seal” translates to “phoque.” While in English the word has a double meaning, “phoque” in French simply refers to the round sea-lions. Upon being asked for a statue of an arctic creature, Pete was dumbfounded but complied with the college’s request.
Days before the grand opening of what would be the signature building on Marist College campus, Pete informed the contractors that the masterpiece was complete and ready for installment. Per protocol, the school had security run over to the studio and pick up the piece. Security returned to Marist with a three foot, solid black-stone seal statue on a pedestal.
Without looking at the statue, contractors said to place it in the lobby. The original floor plan of the lobby was bare, with a school seal decorating the floor. Security placed the seal in the center of the lobby as directed, and thus Marist College officially had a school seal.
Realizing their mistake, contractors exclaimed “what le phoque!?” Acknowledging they would never be hired again after installing a statue of a seal, which has nothing to do with Marist College, the Marist Brothers, or Poughkeepsie, the crafty workers quickly built a garden around the seal.
The garden is still in place today as the greatest cover-up in Marist history. The seal is covertly nestled within the plants. It stands as a reminder of the importance of a bilingual education. The seal is the closest resemblance to a fox of any statue on campus. It basically gets the job done.