ST. JOHN | Set against a wooden skyline that incorporates her Chicago roots with her new St. John home, a three-story-tall metal statue of the Virgin Mary was welcomed on Sunday.
"Like many former Chicagoans, she now has a home in northwestern Indiana," said Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago.
The cardinal joined Bishop Dale Melczek, of the Gary Diocese, and the Rev. Sammie Maletta, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, along with priests, sisters, Knights of Columbus and hundreds more in a prayer- and song-filled reception for Our Lady of the New Millennium.
Cardinal George said the statue helped bring a return to public devotion to Mary for Catholics.
The statue -- an idea born of a man named Carl Demma, who wanted to build a statue of Mary so tall that all of Chicago could see -- traveled around the Chicago area for about a decade. In early April, she was relocated to the grounds of St. John the Evangelist Church, 10701 Olcott Ave. The statue will stay there for about a year until being moved to the nearby Shrine of Christ's Passion.
Melczek thanked Demma's widow, Francine Demma, for selecting it as the permanent home. He said he hoped Our Lady and the Shrine of Christ's Passion would draw many pilgrims.
Plans for an outdoor dedication ceremony Sunday were thwarted by rain, lightning and severe weather warnings. Maletta said St. John Police Chief Fred Frego advised it was too dangerous to have the crowd outside and the ceremony should be moved inside the church.
Members of the Marian Society at St. John passed out handmade blue-beaded rosaries before the service.
St. John parishioners Bonnie O'Connor, Judy Fraterrigo and Arlene Houston said the church was honored to receive the statue.
O'Connor said that, with such turmoil in the world, many people pray to Mary. Having the statue so visible in St. John will draw more people to her.