SOUTH BEND – The paint was chipped and faded, the facade aged and worn. Yet, nestled quietly in a secluded, wooded alcove, a statue of St. Francis stood ever-vigilant and welcoming for nearly four decades.
Generations of parishioners at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in South Bend grew up praying and reflecting there.
Then one morning two to three weeks ago, it was simply gone.
It’s one thing if it’s a lawn mower or something you can use, but a statue? said John Zanka, junior warden at the church, in an interview with the South Bend Tribune. What’s a person going to do with a statue?
It wasn’t the first time. A week before St. Francis vanished, another statue, this one of St. Therese, was stolen from among the vegetables and flowers of the church’s Garden of St. Therese.
The Rev. Terri Bays, priest in charge at the church, said the real value of both statues was intrinsic.
Part of what a statue of a saint does is to signal to people to stop and think about the presence of holiness in their lives, she said.
It’s almost like a speed bump. It marks out a holy place where people can stop and rest and pray and remember the presence of God in their lives.
Having those outside the church is a reminder that it’s not that God is only present here in these brick walls, it’s that God is present everywhere.
Bays said it was no easy task for whoever absconded with the saints. The 2- to 3-foot concrete statues were anchored to their pedestals.
Whoever took them really had to labor to remove them.
The disappearance of the two statues, particularly that of the elder statesman of the garden, St. Francis, is felt beyond the congregation.
Rodney Dials, a neighborhood resident who doesn’t attend the church, said the statue had been there since he was a child.
It’s almost like part of the family is gone now, he said.
The drawing, unifying power that brings people together is what gives the statues their true value, Bays said.
To have that taken, you don’t know what it means. If somebody took it to destroy it, that’s an act of violence not just against us, but against the whole neighborhood, Bays said.
We hope someone took it because they wanted a piece of that hope, joy, love in their lives and just didn’t know how to do that constructively.
Church members would love to have the statues returned; however, even the empty pedestals in the garden where the statues used to stand watch convey a lesson, Bays said.
We haven’t really had the time to figure out what we’re going to do, Bays said.
It may be that we simply keep the pedestals and remember that though we believe God is present in physical objects, we don’t think God is tied to physical objects.
We may keep the absence as a reminder of the pain in our midst. It won’t be a casual decision.