Wayne County Wanderings: Boston Artist Repairs Beloved Statue
St. Mary's Cemetery was nearly deserted when I arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Only a couple of intrepid maintenance men were out braving the rain, carefully piloting their mowers among the headstones.
For a few minutes I worried that the nasty weather would keep people away from this important ceremony. But, I needn't have worried.
At about 12:30 p.m. more cars began pulling in and folks started walking up the drive. The women huddled under umbrellas and the men wore baseball caps pulled low in an effort to combat the rain.
I jumped out, adjusted my own cap, and joined the gathering crowd. We formed a silent semicircle around an earthen mound upon which stands a beautiful figure … the marble statue of an angel.
Her history is, dare I say it, heroic. For nearly nine decades she's remained immovable and implacable amid the swirling maelstrom of existence … through blistering heat, driving rainstorms and bone chilling blizzards.
Her mission? To stand watch over the final resting place of nearly 400 local children who died between 1859 and 1889.
She is the very essence of a Guardian Angel and today we were here to witness her re-dedication.
Kevin Duffy is a talented sculptor and artist who lives and works in Boston.
He was here visiting friends when he heard about our angel and walked over to take a look. The moment he laid eyes on her, Kevin knew he could help.
She'd been terribly damaged during raging thunderstorms this past spring, losing most of both wings and an arm when tree branches were blown down on top of her.
Despite her condition, Duffy told his friend and host, Pauline Glykokokalos, he that thought he could repair the statue.
“Yanni (Iannis Glykokokalos, Pauline's husband) and I were very good friends,” Kevin said with a sad smile, remembering the local artist who passed away last March. “I've been here to visit before and I remember seeing her. She's beautiful.”
And so, Pauline contacted Father William Langan, Pastor of the local Catholic parish, and informed him of Kevin's offer of help.
“After the storm, I came out and took a look and I honestly thought it wouldn't be possible to repair her,” Fr. Langan said. “In fact, I started looking into the possibility of having a replacement made. But, the cost would have been just astronomical.
“It was only by the grace of God that she (Pauline) came to us and said: 'I know someone who can fix her for you, Father.'”
Duffy brought both a wealth of practical experience and extensive education to the project, having trained at the Academy of Art in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the Art Students League in New York and the Montseratt College of Art in Beverly Massachusetts.
His website and Facebook page display a wide range of projects, each more impressive than the last. In other words, Duffy seemed the perfect man for the task at hand.
“I was just kind of overwhelmed that so many children died in such a short span of time,” he said.
“I mean, this couldn't have been a very big town back then and to have 400 children buried here … I just can't imagine it.”
There are hundreds of beautiful monuments in St. Mary's Cemetery.
However, there's only one which captures my imagination and that of many others: a beautifully sculpted angel with outspread wings.
Her right arm is raised heavenward, but her eyes are downcast … gaze fixed on two smaller statues at her feet … a child and a lamb. She appears to be reaching for them with her left hand, perhaps to lend comfort.
The symbolism is powerful. This angel has been sent to stand silent vigil over the site. Her presence provides a link between Heaven above and suffering children below.
But, why is she here?
A plaque, which was placed on the side of this mound on the day of its dedication, November 2, 1930, gives us a hint.
It reads: “To the memory of the four hundred children of St. Mary Magdalen Parish buried in this plot.”
It's mind boggling even to contemplate … 400 little ones interred here?
Years ago, I did some research and discovered that the vast majority of children in this mound reportedly died of influenza.
Dorothy Keiff, who is historian for St. John the Evangelist Parish, recently dug even deeper. She discovered that, “A lot of them actually died from diphtheria, scarlet fever and cholera.”
Hence, it's not hard to imagine that 400 local children could have fallen victim to this epidemic and ended up here.
In my humble opinion, Kevin Duffy has worked a minor miracle.
I saw up close how badly the angel had been mangled by falling trees and sincerely doubted she could ever be repaired.
Oh me of little faith!
The artist spent countless hours on this project and the results. His handiwork, unveiled at Tuesday's re-dedication (which, not coincidentally, was the Feast of the Guardian Angels) speaks for itself.
Father Langan officiated. He said prayers, blessed the statue with holy water and offered words of praise.
“Everyone can see that she's back to her original splendor,” he said. “Mr. Duffy did an absolutely amazing job and we're very grateful to him.”
Following the ceremony, I had a chance to speak to Fr. Langan and ask the one question that preoccupied me for a long time:
“Why do so many of us care so much about a simple stone statue?”
His reply was insightful and inspiring … even a little bit poetic.
“I think that people have to be able to touch the other world,” he said. “It's a world that's even more real than this one.
“It's important that we aspire to something beyond ourselves and the misery we sometimes experience.
“We see that there's so much more out there. We see that joy and peace and happiness are possible … and that God will take care of his people.”
Standing there Tuesday, I couldn't help but think of all the heartbroken parents who have knelt beneath her sheltering wings over the course of the past 88 years.
As a Dad and Grandpa myself, I can't even imagine the pain those poor folks must have endured.
In their honor, I bowed my head for a moment and recited a little prayer of my own … one the Sisters taught me when I was in grade school.
“Angel of God
My guardian dear
To Whom His love
Commits me here,
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide.”