Sometime between the ages of 13 and 50, Bob Simon lost interest in Lego blocks.
Yet, as if divinely inspired, Simon – now the Rev. Bob Simon, a Catholic priest – rediscovered his childhood hobby and created an epic piece of snap-together art that reflects his religious roots.
Simon’s 500,000-piece replica of the Catholic Church’s Vatican in Rome is on display through October in the Jubilee Museum and Catholic Cultural Center, 57 S. Grubb St. in Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children, students of any age and seniors 65 and older.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
“It’s really awesome to see people enjoying it,” said Simon, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Moscow, Pennsylvania.
Simon, 53, said he has been to the Vatican – located in Vatican City, an independent state bounded by Rome, Italy – five times. The Vatican is home to the pope and the center of the papacy.
“It’s such a magnificent place,” he said.
Simon, who abandoned an attempt as a youngster to build the Vatican, said he began his most recent project in late 2014 and finished it 10 months later, in August 2015.
It is fastidiously accurate – as accurate as it could be using the resources available.
Simon used pieces from his childhood collection and began gathering more plastic blocks through BrickLink, an online resource for procuring Legos.
He consulted an old book cover, internet images and Google maps to build a facsimile worthy of respect.
When architectural flourishes weren’t available, Simon improvised, using miniature skeleton arms, toilet seats and upside-down wheel wells to recreate the historic images.
“That was sort of the fun, figuring out things like that,” he said.
St. Peter’s Square, leading up to St. Peter’s Basilica, features 44,000 individual gray tiles.
Dozens of Lego figurines, representing priests, nuns, popes, cardinals and members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, populate the scene.
It was painstaking work and Simon reconsidered whether to even start the project.
“I was really hesitant at first because I was thinking I wasn’t any good at math,” he said.
The work has earned Simon some national attention. His Vatican was on display in 2015 at the Franklin Institute science museum in Philadelphia in advance of a visit to the city by Pope Francis. That same year it won two awards at BrickFair Virginia, a Lego exposition, according to Simon’s Facebook page.
He credited the Rev. Kevin Lutz, pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in German Village, for his persistence in getting the Lego Vatican to the Jubilee Museum.
Tyler Carter, a local seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum on High Street in north Columbus, and Pat Foley, marketing director for Jubilee, drove the 7 1/2 hours to eastern Pennsylvania to retrieve the Lego sculpture and Simon.
It was broken down into eight pieces and reconstructed last week at the museum.
The exhibit is expected to be one of the most popular in the history of the Jubilee Museum, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, said Shawn Kenney, its executive director.
Other Vatican-related memorabilia will be part of the display, Kenney said.
“People love Legos,” he said. “They’re neat. They’re interesting. This is something that appeals to people of all ages.”