Female saints put on pedestals again Images: After much toil, the 400-pound marble statues of St. Theresa of Lisieux and St. Anne were placed on their bases in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel. The figures are the chapel's first images of women saints.

August 08, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

By the 11 a.m. church service yesterday, the packing straw had been picked up, the plaster crumbs scooped into a pail and St. Theresa of Lisieux and St. Anne firmly glued into place.

No small feat.

The installation of the 400-pound Italian marble statues at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Catonsville took two days, eight hours, five men, four languages and a lot of brawn. The tedious process marked the first new statues in 50 years for the historic church -- and the first time women saints had been placed in the chapel that once nurtured the souls of seminarians.

"All the images in the windows are male saints," said Father Leo J. Larrivee, church chaplain for 4 1/2 years. "I thought it would be complementary to have women saints."

But the arrival of the statues was not like the delivery of a refrigerator from Sears. No one at the church was prepared for the time it would take.

"I had scheduled them from 10 a.m. to noon" Thursday, said an amazed Robert Shindle, chapel administrator.

Throughout the first day, workers strained to heave the weighty cargo, including 400-pound pedestals, up nine church steps in inches-only progress. Talking in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and English, the men who work for A. Troiano Tile and Marble Co. in Beltsville carefully plotted each move.

"You've got to be very calm to do it," said veteran marble installer Sisto Santucci. "You cannot rush this thing."

The men soon realized they needed machinery, not muscle power, to place the statues safely on their bases. That called for another day of labor.

When the sculpted women with gentle eyes and beatific smiles finally were hoisted by a lift yesterday morning onto polished marble bases, a beaming Larrivee was sure it was worth the trouble: "They are beautiful. They will last for generations."

In recent years, the church -- on the campus of Charlestown Retirement Community on Maiden Choice Lane -- has been involved in a $1 million restoration project that has included repairing the magnificent organ in the choir loft, updating lighting around the soaring 68-foot-high dome and painstakingly replacing damaged mosaic tiles around the altar, which is inlaid with precious stones.

The church, built in 1915 and on the National Register of Historic Places, served the students of St. Charles College and Seminary who were studying for the priesthood until it closed in 1977. When it reopened in 1982 for the Charlestown community, the years had taken their toll.

"It was dark and dingy," said Larrivee, who attended St. Charles from 1969 to 1973. "It was a mess."

The statues were a dream for Larrivee, who wanted to fill niches around the church that had been empty. Besides a solitary statue of Mary, the Blessed Mother, there was no female presence.

He shared his idea with Charlestown residents, many of whom use the church as a religious and cultural center. Their contributions helped to purchase 10 statues of religious women sculpted of Carrara marble in Italy.

"The nice thing about this place is it is used by all the residents. It's not just a Catholic church," said Larrivee of the chapel run by the Sulpician Fathers. "It helps give residents of Charlestown a sense of ownership."

The other eight statues -- which include Blessed Kateri Tekawitha, called Lily of the Mohawks; Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, founder of the first Catholic order of African-American women; and Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- are expected to arrive in February. They will be installed in alcoves about 20 feet above the nave.

The two 4-foot-tall statues that arrived this week stand on opposite sides in the back of the chapel on ground level. For Charlestown residents Louis Leilich and Leonard Heckwolf, donating these statues, which cost about $6,300 each, was a way to honor their deceased wives.

"I thought it was a fitting memorial to the mother of my children," said Heckwolf, whose first wife, Ann Helen Heckwolf, died of cancer 25 years ago. "It's very pretty."

On Thursday, Heckwolf, 85, who watched the uncrating of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Mother, did not know the statue would become more meaningful. His wife of 23 years, Ramona, who also contributed the statue, died unexpectedly several hours later.

Her funeral Mass will be the first to be offered in front of the new statues.

Leilich, 84, who donated St. Theresa, still grieves for his wife of 58 years, Margarita, who died 16 months ago of pneumonia after breaking her hip.

He chose St. Theresa because of Mrs. Leilich's devotion to the saint who promised to shower earth with roses when she was in heaven. The statue depicts a sweet-faced woman, who was a Carmelite nun, clutching a delicately carved bouquet of her favorite flower.

"It's really pretty. I'm pleased," Mr. Leilich said yesterday. "It's just wide enough to put a rose on."

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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