June 23, 2013 in City

Head of vandalized Virgin Mary statue recovered

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Paul Lestage grinds off the excess dried epoxy after he reattached the head of the Virgin Mary statue Saturday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

History

Brother Joseph Giraudi built the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in the early 1900s, when Mount St. Michael was a Jesuit scholasticate, according to staff there.

He promised the Virgin Mary that he would devote the remainder of his days to constructing a shrine in her honor, if she would obtain a cure for cancer that apparently developed in his hip following an injury. He was cured and worked there until two days before his death at age 88. He is buried at the Jesuit cemetery there.

The statue’s head reappeared the week of the anniversary of the death of Florence DeEsso, who also dedicated much of her life to caring for the grotto.

She, too, was diagnosed with cancer and prayed for a cure, promising Mary she’d diligently look after the grotto. She went into remission for 20 years. The statue was vandalized just months after her 2009 death.

Her daughter, Eileen Urann, has now taken on the task of caring for the grotto.

Divine providence may have helped unravel a mystery.

It was a particularly soggy and cold day in October in 2009 when, just days before Halloween, vandals made their way along a winding road to Mount St. Michael, the Traditional Roman Catholic parish and academy perched on a hill overlooking northeast Spokane.

Once there, they lopped off the head of the Virgin Mary statue overlooking the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto.

“I think someone is going to have a lot of explaining to Jesus to do,” the Rev. Casimir Puskorius, pastor of Mount St. Michael, said recently of the vandals.

A priest discovered the beheaded statue the next morning.

“It was so demoralizing to see the head missing,” Mary Agnes, reverend mother of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate Queen, recalled. “It’s a representation of someone we love and honor.”

The statue’s body was rolled up in a tarp and put into storage in the boiler room. Now, nearly four years later, the missing head has appeared in a vacant rental home in Spokane.

The owners of that property, Melba and Ken Cross, were renovating the house about two weeks ago when they discovered the head in a small storage closet they nearly overlooked as they cleaned the home. The house, built in the early 1900s, is on the 1400 block of North Ruby Street.

Melba Cross was intrigued.

“I do have a curious nature about me,” she said. “I was sort of excited. It was a mystery.”

She began scouring the Internet for clues and came across the Mount St. Michael website, which had a description of the grotto and noted the statue had been vandalized in 2009.

She called parish Secretary Anne Marie Netzel to ask about the statue before bringing it to Mount St. Michael.

“They were just so happy to get it back,” Melba Cross said. “It just made me feel good. It was good for us to feel like we found her home.”

Puskorius said, “Obviously, it’s more than just a statue. … We were just thrilled, absolutely thrilled.”

The 1,000-pound statue, made of Italian marble, was made in France and installed in the grotto in the 1920s. The church had to rent a crane to get the remainder of the statue down after the head was stolen.

In the meantime, a parishioner donated another statue. Puskorius said the church needs to decide what to do with the two statues.

It’s not the first time vandals targeted the statue.

In the late 1980s or early ’90s, someone with a truck attached a rope to the statue and pulled it over, knocking off the head. The truck also mowed over trees and brush on the hill.

They left the head behind, and it was later reattached, leaving a weak spot in the marble where it was again broken in the more recent incident.

Paul Lestage, a parishioner from Rathdrum, is fixing the head and repairing blemishes that appear to have been left by bullets.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s a rewarding challenge,” he said. “It’s a beautiful statue. It’s a piece of history.”

Careless visitors often leave behind beer cans, used needles and other drug paraphernalia in the grotto, which is otherwise immaculate, featuring a small babbling stream, neat little rows of flowers and rose bushes that bloom in the summer months.

“It’s really a piece of heaven down there,” Puskorius said. “It’s beautiful.”

When the Crosses returned the head to Mount St. Michael, “It was just a really joyful occasion,” Netzel said.

The case remains a whodunit. No one is sure what may have prompted the vandals to target the sanctuary or who they might have been.

Calling the vandalism a hateful act, Puskorius nevertheless said Mount St. Michael isn’t interested in prosecuting. “We’re not going to go there,” he said. “Forgiveness is a Christian thing.”

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