Mystery

The statues of Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the Apostle and the Crucifix have been sent to Clay Center to be sandblasted and powder-coated an off-white

It’s no mystery where the three statues and the Crucifix at Mt. St. Joseph Cemetery went.

The bigger mystery is where they came from.

The statues will return sometime in late summer, looking much spiffier.

The statues of Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the Apostle and the Crucifix have been sent to Clay Center to be sandblasted and powder-coated an off-white.

They will come back to a redesigned altar. The concrete altar has cracked and crumbled, said Brian Whitehair, chairman of the cemetery committee for St. Andrew Catholic Church.

The altar will be as wide but not as high, said Whitehair. It will be stair-stepped and the three statues, previously grouped on one level around the cross and Crucifix, will be on different levels.

Tom Whitehair has the duty of caring for the altar, Brian Whitehair said.

The group will be reach 8 feet high as when Jesus died on the cross, Brian Whitehair said, which is lower than they were. Since they won’t be as high, he said, the statues won’t catch as much wind which causes them to vibrate and which can lead to damage.

The last time the metal statues were painted was more than 20 years ago, Whitehair said. There is so much paint on them that the writing on the base, including the date they were made, is illegible.

Lost history

No one seems to know when the statues were put up or who made them.

The man who knew the most was Ray Whitehair, said Brian Whitehair, but he is no longer with us.

Sarah Geiger remembered a discussion that Ray Whitehair gave in 1994: One of Abilene’s early priests was Father Thomas O’Reilly. He came from Ireland in 1910 with his sister as his housekeeper. After he died on April 7, 1933, his sister and some friends donated the altar.

He is one of three priests buried under granite covers in front of the altar. O’Reilly’s sister returned to Ireland and is buried there.

The Catholic Diocese of Salina which owns the cemetery hasn’t located records of exactly when the statues were erected, who made them,or how much they cost.

Mt. St. Joseph Cemetery, Abilene’s Catholic cemetery, was intended as the final resting place for the Sisters of St. Joseph who worked at St. Joseph Orphanage next to the cemetery but they chose not to use it.

Donation

Funds from the renovation have come from a donation by Rita Horan. Any monies left over will be used to beautify the cemetery and upgrade the landscaping, Whitehair said.

He said it was hard to predict when the statues would return because of all the variables.

Father Don Zimmerman, current pastor at St. Andrew’s, has scheduled a rededication of the statues for Nov. 2.

There’s another mystery involving the statues, but this one is about where they went. The grotto at St. Joseph Orphanage next to Mount St. Joseph Cemetery used to have life-size, or nearly life-size, statues of a young St. Bernadette kneeling on the ground before Mother Mary who was in a niche in the rock wall.

The statues disappeared 15 or 20 years ago, said Sister Carolyn Juenemann from the Salina Diocese.

She said she hopes someone took them to protect them because the grotto was being neglected. If someone knows where they are, she asks that they contact her or the Reflector-Chronicle. No questions will be asked.

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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