One town, two Virgin Mary statues

May 23, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
A 34-foot-tall "Our Lady of the New Millennium" was dedicated in St. John, IN., on Sunday.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Diocese of Gary Bishop Dale Melczek leads Francis Cardinal George of Chicago out of St. John the Evangalist Church.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
St. John the Evangalist Pastor Rev. Sammie Maletta (left), Cardinal George and Diocese of Gary Bishop Dale Melczek pose.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
The Marian Shrine at the Shrine at Christ's Passion in St. John, Indiana.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
The Marian Shrine, St. John, Indiana.

There’s a cornfield off a busy highway in Northwest Indiana that’s home to a statue of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.

That marble Mary has overheard countless prayers while keeping watch over the town of St. John.

But soon, this modest marble Mary will gaze at her competition - a new steel Virgin Mary statue that’s moving nearby.

The question is: can little St. John, Indiana, be home to two Maries?

The new Virgin Mary statue in the town of St. John is hard to miss.
She’s stainless steel.
She’s three stories tall.
She’s called Our Lady of the New Millennium, and yesterday she took her place in her new, temporary home: the parking lot of  St. John the Evangelist Church.
Rain doused the official welcome party … so worshippers headed inside.
(que music…)
All this pomp came with a little irony - the stainless steel Mary was supposed to be installed in Chicago - not Northwest Indiana.

CARDINAL GEORGE: The statue of Our Lady of the New Millennium now receives a home here. Like many former Chicagoans, she’s found a home in western Indiana.


That’s Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago.


GEORGE: As you know, here she will create a home. A home for her son, a home in your hearts, a home in this parish, a home in our neighboring dioceses of Gary.

It’s taken ten years for Our Lady of the New Millennium to get this far. The steel statue was created back in 1999, and ever since then it’s been touring Catholic parishes and tourist spots - like Chicago’s Navy Pier.
The artist’s widow eventually settled on an Indiana location, but the St. John church parking lot is just the steel Mary’s temporary home.
About a year from now, it will move to a a larger religious display called the Shrine of Christ’s Passion, also in St. John.
It’s run by an independent non-profit Foundation.
Now, putting stainless steel Mary at the Shrine is an issue because there’s already a famous virgin mary statue there called the Marian Shrine.
The Marian Shrine’s not so tall as the stainless steel Mary, and she’s made of cream-colored Italian marble.
Some worshippers wonder if the two virgin mary statues will compete for attention.
Here’s Rosalie Ruiz from south suburban Sauk Village.


RUIZ: The one down there is the original Madonna that I always pray to.


Ruiz got a peek of the new stainless steel Virgin Mary late last week.   


RUIZ: It’s big. PUENTE: Is it beautiful? RUIZ: Yes it is beautiful. I don’t know anything about this one: The Lady of the New Millennium? I like that one to stay down there. It’s been there a long time. I would look for the other first I’m sorry to say. It’s beautiful but…


Here’s another opinion from - from Reverand Sammie Maletta, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church.


MALETTA: To be really frank, that’s not my issue to be concerned with. That’s the Shrine’s problem. They are going to have to figure out a way to make that work.


Maletta says, after all, the whole point of the Shrine is to bring people’s hearts and minds together - and the steel and marble statues might complement each other.
Still, … if given his choice …


MALETTA: The statue down there is beautiful. It’s been there for years. But frankly, this is so much more …. impressive.


For Frank Schilling, there’s no really isn’t a choice between the two mary statues.
He’s with the Shrine of Christ’s Passion Foundation, and his grandfather happened to have erected the marble Virgin Mary statue back in the 50s.
Schilling says the shrine has been expanding, and the new stainless steel statue fits in with that.


SCHILLING: I know a lot of people are concerned but we have plans. I think when they see the final outcome, they’ll be well pleased where she’s going to be setting.


But c’mon: does Schilling even have a personal preference for praying in front of marble or steel?


SCHILLING: There’s never any competition. There’s just one Great Lady.