Holy Cross celebrates first May crowning

Danielle Valderrama places a bouquet at the feet of the statue of Our Lady of Grace before crowning her with flowers at Holy Cross School’s first May Crowning May 5. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Holy Cross School gathered for its first May Crowning, at least in recent memory, May 5. Before now they had nothing to crown, but thanks to a local man who rescued a damaged statue of Our Lady of Grace from a dumpster fate, they do now.

Five years ago, a house near KU Medical Center was vacated by a family due to a foreclosure. They left everything, including a statue surrounded by candles on a table in an upstairs hall. When the house was purchased at auction, the buyer went to see what kind of repairs were needed to get the place ready to flip. His brother, David Bass, who planned to help with the cleanup and repairs, accompanied him. Bass’s brother looked around and said he was going to get a dumpster and just toss all the house’s contents in it, and that meant the statue too. David was appalled. “I’m Baptist,” he said later, “but my ex-wife was Catholic so I knew the statue was Mary. She’s Jesus’s mother, show her respect!”

David’s brother was adamant, he was going to clean out everything, but if David wanted the statue, he could have it. David took the statue home, put her in a corner of his living room and took stock of her. She was badly damaged — magic marker scrawls all over her face and arms, chipped paint, a big crack in the plaster near the bottom of the statue. Her gown had been painted several different greenish colors. And her hands! They had obviously been broken and someone had attempted to repair them. They were outsized, with sausage-like fingers. David looked up the phone numbers of the Catholic parishes in his area, hoping one would be interested in taking the statue and restoring her. No luck.

He left her in the living room corner, and became rather fond of her. “When I’d come downstairs in the morning I’d say, ‘Good morning Mary, pray for me today,’” he recalled. His daughter, Aubrey, was fascinated with the statue, damage and all. Several years later, David was forced to try again to find the statue a home. He posted it on Craigslist, under “Free Stuff,” and crossed his fingers.

Enter Bob Roper, Human Resources Director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He was perusing Craigslist, looking for something he needed for a project, when he spotted the statue. He called David and convinced him that a good home would be found for the statue. David said he hoped that home would be in a school.

Roper knew that Connie Malewski, mother of Father Christian Malewski, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph, and her sister Kathy Hesse, restored statues and other religious artworks. He contacted Connie, picked up the statue, and drove to St. Joseph.

Connie later said the statue was well formed, but the damage was bad. “Those hands truly looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie! But Our Lady of Grace — and since she’s made of plaster we figured she’s at least 50 years old — deserved restoration.

The sisters set to work. The magic marker had to be removed, her face rebuilt, cracks and chips repaired, and she needed repainting. And her hands. “We stopped counting hours after 70,” Connie recalled, “there was just so much to do.”

Our Lady of Grace adorned with flowers. The statue was discovered in a foreclosed home, badly damaged. It was restored by siblings Connie Malewski and Kathy Hesse in St. Joseph, and donated to Holy Cross School which had no statue of Our Blessed Mother. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Kathy rebuilt the face, reforming the delicate nose and lips and soft brown eyes. Her veil and gown were repaired and repainted in the traditional colors of cream and a light aqua. Connie said she “really loved the face.” Then it was time for the hands.

Laughing, Connie said, “This was the first time we started a restoration with an amputation. We had to cut the hands off, but there were wires inside that we didn’t want damaged. Finally, Bob Roper came with a tool that cut between the fingers so they crumbled away. We made the hands out of Sculpey clay, and baked them hard. Then we used the wires and a couple of metal plates and screws to hold the hands on. She’s not perfect, but she’s useable.”

Connie and Kathy, who say they are self-taught, got started restoring Church art in 2002 thanks to Father Vince Rogers, then-pastor of St. James Parish, St. Joseph, who wanted the Stations of the Cross restored. “We joined the Church in 2001 and got started with restoration in 2002. We enjoy it. It’s fun.”

As April ended, Bob Roper and David Bass brought Our Lady of Grace to Holy Cross School, and gently placed her on a pedestal in the hall near the principal’s office. The pedestal had formerly been home to a statue of St. Stephen, which is now at Our Lady of Peace Church.

On May 5, Holy Cross eighth grader Danielle Valderrama followed kindergartner Andreas Valderrama, who carried a pillow on which rested a crown of flowers. Danielle’s train was carried by Diego Zamora and Rocco Stafford. When the four reached the statue, Danielle crowned Our Lady of Grace with the flowers. Three students led the rest of the student body in saying the Rosary. As each decade began, a student carried a bouquet of flowers to the statue and placed it at Mary’s feet.

Our Lady of Grace is again beautiful and has a home. The statue will be dedicated to the family of the late Bishop Raymond J. Boland, who donated their inheritance from him to the diocese.

David, Aubrey and David’s mother are all pleased. And Holy Cross students can now say ‘good morning’ to Mary and ask for her prayers. One of David’s was answered.


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November 25, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph