Mary statue finds permanent home in St. John, Indiana

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our Lady of the New Millennium statue. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Our Lady of the New Millennium spent the first decade of her existence traveling from parish to parish, mostly in the Archdiocese of Chicago. But her peripatetic ways are about to come to an end.

The 33-foot stainless steel statue commissioned by Carl Demma will take up permanent residence at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Ind., this spring.

The statue, mounted on a flatbed truck for easier mobility, is set to arrive in St. John on April 10. It will be erected on its flatbed in the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Church, 11301 W. 93rd Ave., St. John, next door to the shrine.

Cardinal George is expected to bless the statue at a 5 p.m. service on May 22.

Once the proper spot has been selected and a pedestal has been prepared, the statue will be permanently installed on the grounds of the shrine, whose main feature is a half-mile-long way of the cross with life-size statues of Jesus, the apostles and those who encountered him.

“Who better to draw people to Jesus than Our Lady?” said Francine Demma, Carl’s widow. “She will be leading the people to her son’s passion.”

Demma said she laughed when Father Sammie Maletta, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist, approached her about five years ago and said he thought the statue should move to the shrine being planned next to his parish.

Her husband, she said, always intended that the statue should remain in the archdiocese. But then, once the shrine opened two years ago, she visited with a friend, and thought it was beautiful.

After a few visits, she was introduced to Paul Anderson, the shrine’s manager, and she brought up the topic of Our Lady of the New Millennium.

“When I saw it, I felt in my heart that this would be the place for Our Lady,” Demma said.

Demma had been looking for a permanent home for the last few years as the statue traveled less and less. The regular driver, who developed an expertise in working the hydraulic lift that stands the statue up and lays it down on the flatbed, was ill, she said, so the statue spent most of its time at Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills.

Maletta, who had never seen the statue and did not even know its name when the idea first came to him, was not surprised.

“When she said no, I told her that if God wanted it to happen, it would, and if I was wrong, then so be it,” Maletta said.

Demma said that in addition to the beautiful setting, the shrine — which is operated by a nonprofit foundation — can offer the assurance that the statue will be cared for in perpetuity.

As for being outside of the archdiocese, Demma pointed out that St. John is on the Indiana-Illinois border. “It’s maybe 30 miles from where I live” in the southwest suburbs,” she said.

To honor her origins in Chicago while it stands in the church parking lot, the statue will have a backdrop showing the Chicago skyline, with Holy Name Cathedral at one end and St. John the Evangelist at the other.

And Our Lady of the New Millennium will have plenty of company when it comes to former Chicagoans, Maletta said. “I’d say 80 percent of my parishioners are originally from the archdiocese,” he said. “They weren’t originally Hoosiers.”

While she is happy with her decision, Demma said, she is also sad.

“There’s a void in me too,” she said. “I’ve been connected to Our Lady for 11 years.”