She survived the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina and the Murphy Oil Spill in 2005. Though it took her years longer than her St. Bernard counterparts who joined the Catholic parish in Mandeville, a statue of the Blessed Virgin finally found a new home at Mary Queen of Peace in 2013. She was properly adorned with flowers by students May 3 in a ceremony that included a lighting of candles, symbolizing how students, too, “are asked to be light for others”; singing of songs dedicated to Mary; and Scripture readings recalling her place in the life of the Catholic church.
“When we founded this building, we wanted a statue of Mary for this building,” principal Sybil Skansi said.
It truly was divine providence that this particular statue landed in Mandeville from the former St. Mark Catholic School, founded in 1965 in Chalmette.
Two Sisters of Divine Providence – Sisters Barbara Dichiara and Bernardetta D’Archivio, whose order opened the school and worked there until Hurricane Katrina – were present for the May crowning. The year after they came to America, Archbishop Cody named a parish, as promised, in honor of the order: Our Lady of Divine Providence in Metairie.
“I think it is so important that our Blessed Mother is back in front of a school,” Sister Barbara said. “It’s part of our charism. We were founded (by Mother Elena Bettini in Rome in 1832) to educate the young and underprivileged. For us, it’s a part of the Daughters, an extension of us and, now, she’s back here again with children.”
Mary Queen of Peace’s coordinator of religious education Susan Danos tells the story of how a parishioner happened to see Archbishop Gregory Aymond at a function and asked him for suggestions on where to look to find a statue of the Blessed Mother for the new school building.
He told them to call the archives department of the archdiocese. When Danos called, there were actually two Blessed Mothers available. Danos said she didn’t hear about the statue’s origin until after she selected it.
“I think it was the Holy Spirit working behind the scenes to make the whole thing fall in place,” Danos said. It was all providential that we selected the one from St. Mark.”
It is made of concrete, weighs approximately 400 pounds and stands 5 feet tall, so it took four men and a forklift and a hoist to remove it from archive’s storage in November 2012, get it on a truck, drive it across the Causeway Bridget to Mandeville and get it off the truck.
The statue wasn’t in perfect condition either. Art teacher Lori Seals loving stripped the worn paint with a wire brush, cleaned it (since it sat under water and oil), repainted it and repaired a damaged hand. A slab had to be constructed on which to place the statue, too. An anonymous donor at Mary Queen of Peace donated money for the statue’s restoration.
“So many of the new students who came to us after Katrina came from St. Bernard and St. Mark, so it seemed appropriate that the statue would come go us,” Father Ronald Calkins, MQP pastor, said. As coincidence would have it, Father Ronnie was assigned to St. Mark in 1970 as a seminarian.
“We are so happy it now graces our new school building here at Mary Queen of Peace,” Father Calkins said. “We are very grateful to the archdiocese for giving us this statue.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.