Auction Donation Brings Statue Full Circle
The patron saint of lost items found his way back home.
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
April 7, 2022
PECATONICA—Parishioners at St. Mary Parish gathered the last weekend in March for Stations of the Cross followed by a soup supper and auction.
 
Folks were excited to have a 23-year tradition back after a hiatus caused by a global pandemic. More than two decades ago, the event began to bring people together first in faith, then for fellowship and finally for some friendly fundraising. 
 
Parishioners bring in crock pots full of their favorite soups served with baskets of breads and topped off with a wide variety of donated desserts. Parishioners and local businesses donate items to be auctioned off. 
 
A Historic Trip Home
 
How did this statue of St. Anthony of Padua go from a Pecatonica parish to a Pecatonica home, then back to the parish?
 
 1874: “The present site of St. Mary Church (126 W. Fifth St.) was purchased in 1874 from Irvin French, and the small house on the property served as church and rectory” (“That All May Be One”).
 
 1922: The original St. Mary Church burned down in 1922. Work began on the current church building. 
 
 Around 2012: Remodeling on Hayes Hall began, and then-pastor Msgr. Robert Sweeney had old, non-sacramental items stored, sold, or discarded. Gary and Karla Moore took the statue to “fix it up” and worked with Michelle Bowman at Restorations Plus in St. Louis, Mo.
 
 2022: The Moore’s decide to sell their home and donate the statue to the parish fundraising event. The officers of St. Mary’s Guild decide to auction the statue to keep at the parish. 
Some of the items donated included some olive wood sculptures from the Holy Land donated by James Anderson, handmade quilts from the Stonewall Stitchers who make quilts for nursing homes and veterans, handmade birdhouses, framed local artwork, baskets for children, food baskets, and even fresh baked pies.
 
“It’s all to raise money for the needs of the parish and for the donations made by St. Mary’s women’s guild to places like St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center, Pecatonica Food Pantry, the Newman Center in DeKalb, the parish religious ed program and many other things,” said Karen Janssen, vice president of St. Mary’s Guild and organizer of the event.
 
“People from outside our parish join us and it ends up being a fun evening of a little good-natured bidding competition. Even the young kids bid at the auction, especially when there’s Easter baskets, toys and candy,” Janssen said.
 
And there were many items to bid on this year. But one item ended up raising the most money and didn’t even leave the church.
 
Parishioners Gary and Karla Moore have decided to downsize and sell their stately home that they have fixed up and cared for for many years. As part of the preparation to move, they decided to generously donate a statue that welcomed visitors to their home.
 
As it turns out, their donation is more than a statue; it is a piece of parish history they saved from the dumpster. 
 
The story
 
When St. Mary Parish began preparation to remodel the current Hayes Hall in 2012, much cleaning of the church was done to make room to store items while construction was taking place. Former pastor Msgr. Robert Sweeney saw to it that many old, non-sacramental items were either stored, sold or discarded. A sale was held to liqudate old items from the old St. Mary’s lunch stand, Christmas decorations, dishes, and more. 
 
One of the last items taking up space was a crumbling statue. According to Gary and Karla the statue was in terrible shape and hardly recognizable. 
 
The statue seemed to be holding a child so it was thought it might be St. Joseph.  
 
When no one purchased or even wanted the statue, the Moores thought maybe they could “fix it up” so Msgr. Sweeney gave them the statue. 
 
When Gary and Karla realized fixing the statue was more than they could handle, they decided to see if it could be restored and found an expert in religious restoration in St. Louis, Mo. After several months with Michelle Bowman at Restorations Plus it was finished. She had researched the colors, the depiction and determined it to be St. Anthony of Padua holding the Christ child.  The restoration cost $1400 and Ms. Bowman valued the statue at that time (almost 10 years ago) at $3200.
 
The origin
 
The statue had considerable water damage according to the restorationist which affirmed what Msgr. Sweeney told Gary and Karla about the origin of the statue. Msgr. Sweeney thought the statue had been part of the original church. According to the diocesan history in That All May Be One, “the present site of St. Mary Church (126 W. Fifth St.)  was purchased in 1874 from Irvin French, and the small house on the property served as church and rectory.” The old structures that were the original church were ultimately destroyed by fire in January of 1922, the same year building began on the current St. Mary Church building. The fire accounted for the water damage and peeled paint on the statue. When the Moore’s picked up the statue, they said “there were tears” because the transformation was so incredible. 
 
The decision
 
In explaining the decision to donate the statue, Gary Moore told those gathered March 27 that he and his wife thought the statue should come back to St. Mary’s and be valued by someone who knew where it came from and to help the church. 
 
Understanding that the statue dates back more than 100 years, the officers of St. Mary’s Guild gathered quickly in the kitchen and decided that rather than attempt to auction off a piece of parish history to just one individual for just any value, with the help of auctioneer and parishioner Jim Sacia, the statue could be auctioned at affordable contributions to keep the statue as part of our parish.  So, Sacia explained to the crowd that he would take bids starting at $150 each to keep the statue at the parish and build a proper fixture for its display. The bidding began. Bids of $150 each, then $100, then $50 were taken and within a few minutes $2,900 was raised. 
 
What’s next
 
Father Dennis Morrissy, pastor of St. Mary’s  has committed to finding a suitable and reverent place within the parish for the image of St. Anthony of Padua which members of St. Mary’s Guild said “is both a fitting tribute and gift to us in this centennial year of our church. Additional funds will be needed to properly mount and secure this beautifully restored artwork as well,” they stated on the parish website. Other statues in the parish are of St. Mary, St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart of Jesus among others. Just where or why St. Anthony of Padua was selected for St. Mary’s is still a mystery but it will certainly be at home among them.
 
“We’re just so very happy the statue is staying at the church,” Gary said. And from the quickness of the bidding, the parishioners are too.

 

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