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Brown: The Virgin Mary of 97th and Menard

Father Tom Mescall , center, stands between Matt and Linda O'Hara in front of the new statue of the Virgin Mary that a mysterious benefactor placed last weekend in front of their home last weekend at 97th and Menard to replace the one that had stood there nearly 30 years. (Photo supplied)

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Nobody would have ever mistaken the Virgin Mary of 97th and Menard for a Lorado Taft original.

Yet the off-the-shelf, concrete statue of the Blessed Virgin still managed to become a cherished landmark in the Oak Lawn neighborhood where it has stood nearly 30 years.

Standing 4-feet-tall on its pedestal, the statue erected by Frank Sosnowski in the front yard of his corner house drew character over time from the ravages of the elements.

“I don’t know how to say it. I’ve seen a lot of people with a statue in their yard, but this was different,” said Father Tom Mescall, pastor at St. Adrian’s Catholic Church in Marquette Park.

“It had the most haunting face. Haunting yet gentle,” added Father Tom, who drove past regularly on his way to a nearby diner, pausing to pray as he did.

“Nature sculpted the face of this statue better than any artist could imagine,” he said. It commanded a certain reverence.”

OPINION

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And then one day, it was gone.

Father Tom missed it so much that last month he decided to stop and investigate.

He learned from the homeowners, Matt and Linda O’Hara, that the statue had been vandalized.

Somebody had knocked the head off the Virgin Mary.

This was nothing new to the O’Haras, who had been through this at least three times previously in the 10 years they had owned the house after acquiring it from Linda’s dad.

Each time, the O’Haras had faithfully repaired the statue by carefully reattaching the Virgin’s head to her torso.

Only this time the culprit stole the head, making that impossible.

Father Tom was heartbroken.

And he wasn’t the only one.

Through the years, neighbors have quietly placed flowers at the base of the statue, Matt O’Hara said. Others make the sign of the cross as they walk past. Some stop to say a quick prayer.

People inquired about the missing shrine, their concern something to which the O’Hara’s had grown accustomed after previous acts of vandalism.

“I realized how important it was to other people in the neighborhood,” Matt O’Hara told me Tuesday.

Then last Sunday, the O’Haras awoke and opened their front curtains to find a new, smaller Virgin Mary statue on their front lawn.

“It kind of renewed our faith,” O’Hara said. He said his wife actually likes the new statue better.

Word of the new statue reached the ears of Father Tom from one of his fellow customers at the diner.

He stopped to see it for himself. The O’Haras thought he might have been responsible. He advised them otherwise.

As much as he appreciated the thoughtfulness of their secret benefactor, Father Tom wasn’t ready to give up so easily on the old statue, now lying forlornly in the O’Haras’ back yard.

“Father Tom said, ‘No, you have to put the old statue back,” Matt O’Hara told me.

A vandalized statue of the Virgin Mary lies in the back yard of a home at 97th and Menard where it had stood nearly 30 years. A priest is asking for the culprits to return the stolen head. (Photo supplied)

Father Tom previously had identified an artist willing to sculpt a new head, but he acknowledged that wasn’t the best answer either.

“We’ll never be able to capture that face that time and nature sculptured,” he said. “It can’t really be repaired. It won’t stop traffic like the other one did.”

There’s really only one way to do that, which is for somebody to return the old head.

Nobody believes the theft was anything other than a teenage prank. Somebody probably still has the Virgin Mary’s head in his bedroom or basement, and it would be a simple enough matter to put it back.

“If we could just get back the head, we’ll be glad,” Father Tom said.

O’Hara is in agreement, but hastens to add that he won’t get rid of the new Virgin Mary statue either. He doesn’t want to appear ungrateful.

“Soon, I’m going to have Virgin Marys all over,” said O’Hara, who doesn’t consider himself and his wife to be devout Catholics, more of the “cafeteria” variety.

Father Tom, of course, takes his religion very seriously, and apparently his neighborhood shrines as well.

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