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Return of the Sacred Heart

by MOSAIC Editorial Team

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Vintage statue gets new pair of hands and is reinstalled in its original location.

With its installation on November 11 and formal blessing by Archbishop Allen Vigneron on December 8, a venerable image of the Sacred Heart of Jesu—which had not seen the sunlight since the late 1980— is again a public symbol of inspiration to students, residents, employees, and to our many visitors to the seminary.

The new old statue of the Sacred Heart first was tucked into its niche before the seminary's rear entrancenow the main entrancein the spring of 1956, during the rectorship of Msgr. Albert Matyn (1952-1964) and tenure of Cardinal Edward Mooney, archbishop of Detroit (1937-1958). This is the same year Monsignor Matyn commissioned the construction of the grotto of the Sacred Heart at the corner of Chicago and Linwood, today's famous Black Jesus grotto. The statue was sculpted of white Carrara marble mined from the same quarries used by the ancient Romans and the great Renaissance artists of Italy.

There Jesus stood for three decades, framed by the simple stone niche impressed into the fa_ade of the elevated porch. Day after day, he watched over Sacred Heart's athletic field while seminarians played football and baseball, competed in track meets, and in the winter ice skated on the flooded and frozen field.

But during the seminary renovations of the late 1980s, the statue was removed and placed into a third-floor storage room, safe but really tucked away this timeand it has been there ever since.

That is, until November 11. The Sacred Heart of Jesus of 1956 is again greeting and blessing seminarians and students in their comings and goings. It has replaced the statue of the Sacred Heart with the streamlined look that students and visitors are familiar with. This more modern depiction of Jesus needed extensive restoration workparticularly repairing weathering cracks around the facial area. Additionally, it had to be removed and placed in storage during the reconstruction of the elevated porch this summer.

But the 1956 statue needed some repair work, too. Fingers and thumbs from both hands had been broken off. When and how this happened is lost in the mists of time.

This summer, rector Msgr. Todd Lajiness commissioned Frank Varga, a sculptor who has been caring for our sacred imagery for decades, to give Our Lord a new set of hands. Varga fashioned them from the same Carrara marble as the body and shipped them back to the seminary from his studio in Florida.

The hands now are seamlessly melded to the arms of the statue today through the loving efforts of master mason Sid Casamatta of Grunwell-Cashero, a building restoration company in Detroit. Sid was part of the Grunwell-Cashero team that tore down and completely reconstructed the western section of the brick retaining wall and concrete porch this summer, along with the entrance sidewalk, handicap ramp, and stairway fronting the porch. He has a soft-spot for the seminary and found extra time to work with Sacred Heart's director of facilities management, John Duncan, to power saw the old hands from the statue, sand the flat surfaces, drill connecting screws into the new hands, and epoxy the new hands onto the arms. Sid also was part of the crew that carefully wheeled the statue out of storage on November 11 and secured it in its dramatic new location. This effort was led by Joseph Dapkus, Grunwell-Cashero's general superintendent, who also oversaw the delicate process of cleaning the statue.

My mother is a devout Catholic. She was mad at me at first when I told her I was cutting off the hands of Jesus, Sid said laughing as he and Joseph were gluing the hands in place. But then I told her we were putting new hands on the statue. She really thought that was nice and wasn't mad anymore.

November 11 was a chilly day and the epoxy was taking longer to dry than expected. As Sid stood pressing a hand to an arm for about a half an hour, with the epoxy still being tacky, he commented, You know, Jesus had to carry his cross a long way. I guess I can stand here another fifteen minutes or so holding up his hands.

It's no accident that the Sacred Heart of Jesus stands before the portal to the seminary, offered Monsignor Lajiness, who had long wanted to resurrect the vintage statue out of storage and have it publicly displayed again. Christ's heart is the true portal of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

The statue reminds us that only through him, with him, and in him' are we able to accomplish the obligation of forming priests, deacons, and lay women and men for the awesome task of the New Evangelization. Each time our students, faculty, and staff walk up that wide walkway toward the seminary entrancewayeach time I walk up the walkwaywe are reminded we are always meant to stride toward him.

Monsignor noted how the statue of the Sacred Heart has a heart bursting in flames. Only through a heart on fire with love for others can a priest-graduate of the seminary carry out the strenuous duties of a parish priest in this difficult day and age. During his rectorship, Monsignor says, the Sacred Heart formation team has challenged each seminarian with a specific vision of formation. That vision is simple. Through grace and hard work, he is to strive to become a heroic witness of Christ with a missionary heart.

According to Mr. Duncan, the semi-circular planting bed surrounding the statue will be attractively landscaped when the weather warms in the spring. Much of the previous landscaping had to be removed during the porch reconstruction.

Monsignor Lajiness also has commissioned electricians to install a cutting-edge LED lighting system around the statue. Soon the Sacred Heart of Jesus will shine with radiance throughout the evenings and nights as a beacon of faith to all who come to the campus.

MOSAIC Editorial Team

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.