Mary is home.
A years-long effort to bring a statue of St. Mary from the old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church location off of Kanesville Boulevard to the new location on Valley View Drive in Council Bluffs is complete, thanks to the work of a group of parishioners.
“We wanted to bring her over so the legacy of St. Mary at St. Pat’s wouldn’t be lost,” Jim Bojanski, a member of the committee that helped make the move happen, said as members of the group took a look and celebrated the statue on a June 19. “It was a big group effort.”
The new St. Patrick’s opened in June of 2018, without the statue on display.
The Our Lady of Grace statue of Mary was constructed in 1954, commissioned after an anonymous donor gave funds for its construction, according to parish officials. The Rev. James Hannan, a Midwest Jesuit priest, designed and built the statue — his payment the building materials, three meals a day and a place to sleep while in town working. Several of his shrines have stood or still stand in Council Bluffs, church officials said, including at CHI Health Mercy Hospital, St. Bernard’s, St. Franci Convent, St. Peter’s Church, St. Joseph Cemetary and a private citizen. Bojanski noted he found two of the statue’s “sisters” — at Creighton Prep High School and College of St. Mary in Omaha.
“I see this as a place where parishioners can come anytime to pray. And indeed, it’s open to anyone, not necessarily Catholics, anyone who wants to come have a little time with Mother Mary,” said the Rev. James Ahenkora, the priest who serves as pastoral administrator under the Rev. Glen Wilwerding at St. Patrick’s, who he credited for helping make the project happen.
“We’re thrilled to have Mother Mary back here,” Ahenkora said.
Ahenkora, a native of Ghana in west Africa, is nearing his first anniversary at St. Patrick’s.
“They call me Father James,” Ahenkora said with a smile. “It’s been wonderful here. The parishioners are great. A very vibrant church.”
Talking about the statue, Ahenkora broke into a little church history. There have been two international “Marian” years in the Catholic Church, 1954 — declared by Pope Pius XII — and 1987, declared by Pope John Paul II.
Bojanski said the committee sold old pews, stained glass, lights — including some that now hang at Barley’s in Council Bluffs — and other items from the old church to raise $31,000 to use in the effort.
That effort to bring Mary to the new St. Patrick’s included a group using weights and pulleys to figure out how to best move the statue. They brought her to the new church in March of 2019, where Mary sat inside until an outdoor promenade was created for display. In early June, she ventured outside.
The space is in the shape of the archway over the front doors at the church, with a sitting wall and bench. Bill Larsen did the masonry, creating a stand for Mary to stand on. ABC Electric provided lights for anyone that wants to pray at night, while also providing use of a crane.
“ABC Electric was huge in putting this together. They won’t let us do anything but thank them,” Darin Hecker, business manager with the church, said of ABC’s in-kind contributions to the effort.
“This means a lot to a lot of parishioners here,” said Nancy Sievers, who teamed with Jonette Smith as landscape chairs of the shrine committee.
The church is also looking at adding an altar to the area.
Ahenkora was all smiles while looking on the work of the parishioners and others. He praised Larsen for his work.
“He took his time, lots of patience,” Ahenkora said. “And he did a great job.”
“The committee did a great job,” Ahenkora added, with the priest and committee members thanking those involved in the project, including but not limited to Paul and Eileen O’Connor, Larry Andress, Kent Darnell, Mike Blume, Jon Ridenour, Bill Grote, Andy Temeyer and Steve Schnitker.
“St. Patrick’s is incomplete without our dear Mother Mary here. When she was brought here I could breathe a sigh of relief,” the priest said.
The next project for the church?
“We’re missing a St. Patrick statue,” Hecker said.
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