Jerry Davich: Relocation issue of Blessed Mother shrine is not over
The popular Marian Wayside Shrine on U.S. 41 in St. John was moved to its new location this past Wednesday, but the issue is not over, as I wrongly predicted in my previous column.
I figured that once the 15-foot-tall marble Blessed Mother statue was relocated to its new home, at nearby St. John the Evangelist Church, opponents of the move would stop protesting. I was mistaken.
“We’re still pressing forward,” said Brad Wachter, of Aurora, Ill., who is now leading the crusade to return the statue to where it’s been for nearly 60 years.
Wachter’s grandfather, Frank Wachter, commissioned the statue in Italy and erected it on an acre of land on the family farm, which was later donated to the Catholic Diocese of Gary. In 2003, the Diocese transferred ownership of the site to a private not-for-profit organization called the Marian Wayside Shrine Foundation.
The foundation’s plans are to relocate the shrine and replace it with a newer, 33-foot-tall statue called “Our Lady of the New Millennium,” on Sunday morning, I’m told by a church official. The stainless steel Virgin Mary has been blessed by the Pope and has been residing in the church’s parking lot for two years.
Done deal, right? Maybe not.
Wachter and other opponents of the statue-switch have hired attorneys to possibly file a civil lawsuit against the move, citing a violation of the foundation’s 501(c)3 tax status and its maintenance obligation to the shrine.
“It has been discovered that by moving the shrine from its intended location on Route 41, the foundation will violate its own charter as described in its founding papers,” Wachter told me.
Those articles of incorporation, filed in 2002, state the purpose of the foundation is to own, maintain, and improve the shrine and Wachter believes that moving it does not constitute preserving it properly.
Meanwhile, a parish priest, the Rev. Michael Maginot of St. Stephen the Martyr in Schererville, has reportedly joined the crusade to oppose the switch. Maginot is a practicing Cannon lawyer and he may file paperwork in the church’s legal system.
“He says we have a strong case and we will take this all the way to Rome if we have to,” Wachter said.
After my initial column ran, I heard from supporters on both sides of this surprisingly polarizing issue, including Michael Livovich, a member of the Parish Life Commission at St. John the Evangelist.
“I was there when our Great Lady was moved and she looks wonderful where she is,” Livovich wrote in a letter to me, Wachter and church officials.
“Many people have called the parish office and most of them ask why we are taking the shrine down,” Livovich wrote. “When we explain that the shrine will remain with the Our Lady of the Millennium statue, currently in the new church parking lot, they generally state they have seen it and that they support the move.”
“The Wayside Shrine will be there for many, many years to comfort travelers as a reminder that they are safe,” Livovich said. “This Great Lady is beautiful in her new spot and I will celebrate, as my fellow Catholics will, when this is behind us.”
To Wachter, he wrote: “This matter will soon be over and we can go back to our life in St. John. Maybe you will consider moving back to your hometown, reconcile your differences with your family, Father (Sammie) Maletta and the many others you have offended, and help us build the community of God, rather than tearing it a part.”
Wachter replied: “If not for our actions, most of these people would not have known of this change until they drove past an empty pedestal on Route 41. Our campaign allowed these people a way to express their feelings that they, otherwise, would have been denied. I reached out to Father Maletta several times during the last four weeks to attempt to resolve this dispute, but my phone calls and emails were not returned.”
Both parties, of course, say God is on their side.
“I am guided by the Holy Spirit first and then by the responsibility I feel to others impacted by this issue,” said Wachter, who is planning a Save our Lady fundraiser to help with legal fees.
Livovich countered: “This is not the way Roman Catholics live, sir.”
Wachter wrote, “Michael, you are not qualified to lecture me about how a Catholic should live and accuse me of tearing apart the community of God. You should be ashamed of yourself for such words, especially since you wrote to me in your official capacity for the parish.”
Livovich noted that media outlets are “lusting after” any news that will discredit the Catholic Church, and that Satan “offends and torments good people of faith and he uses others from within to do his dirty business.”
I don’t know about all that, and I don’t think Satan has seeped into this dispute.
For the record, I didn’t follow this storyline to rage against the church. I simply find it intriguing how this situation has polarized believers, contrasting the old with the new, a timeless topic regarding religion. Any religion.
“This campaign has come to be about more than saving the Great Lady,” Wachter said. “It has given people an opportunity to re-examine their faith and priorities.”
Regardless of your stance on this issue, or the final resting places of those two shrines, I’m a true believer in re-examining our faith, beliefs and priorities on a regular basis. Whether it’s prompted by an iconic statue or a legal statute is a moot point to me.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.