Group launches legal battle over relocation of Virgin Mary statue

2013-06-18T20:15:00Z 2013-06-19T23:05:08Z Group launches legal battle over relocation of Virgin Mary statueDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

ST. JOHN | A group hoping to keep a statue of the Virgin Mary in place on U.S. 41 has hired an attorney and plans to seek a restraining order to keep it from being moved.

Brad Wachter, a spokesman for Save Our Lady, said his group is prepared to file a lawsuit and go to Catholic Church officials in Rome to block the move.

"Our attorneys are seeking a meeting with the foundation board to explain the laws they are about to violate and urging them to stop the moving cranes," Wachter said.

The Legion of Mary Wayside Shrine was placed along U.S. 41 in 1954 so it could be seen by those of all faiths as they traveled the highway, Wachter said. If moved about a half mile to the St. John the Evangelist Parish grounds, the statue's audience would be reduced to mainly church parishioners, he said.

The articles of incorporation for the Marian Wayside Shrine Foundation and a description of the location where the statue would be placed comprise the basis for the potential lawsuit. Moving the statue would violate those articles, the group says.

Plans by the parish, 10701 Olcott Ave., are to move the 15-foot marble statue, also called the Great Lady, to the east side of the parish, the Rev. Sammie Maletta said.

Another Virgin Mary statue, Our Lady of the New Millennium, has been outside the church for the last two years.

That 33-foot-tall metal statue will be swapped with the Great Lady near the visitors center at the nearby Shrine of Christ's Passion, 10630 Wicker Ave.

Those plans will not be altered even though a legal fight is being planned by the Save Our Lady Campaign, Maletta said.

"They can give it their best shot," Maletta said.

The Save Our Lady group also has received assistance from the Rev. Michael Maginot, of St. Stephen the Martyr in Merrillville.

Maginot, a practicing lawyer in church law, said he's prepared to take the case to Rome.

"The church and Father Maletta are in violation of canon law, and their actions will be challenged," Maginot said.

The statue is only being moved a few hundred yards, so it will face the church and be in a beautiful setting, Maletta said.

"She's getting a great place of honor. ... We feel this is the best way to serve the greatest number of people," Maletta said.

Maletta said he's not surprised that there is controversy.

"It's sad, but in the U.S. everyone has the right to express their feelings," Maletta said.

Relocating the Great Lady "right outside our door is a dream come true to me," he said.

Maletta said nearly 4,000 people visit the church every week and many of those people haven't walked up to the statue.

The move will provide parishioners with better access to the statue, he said.

Wachter, who launched the campaign to keep the statue in place, is the grandson of Frank Wachter, who had the statue erected.

The statue was later donated to the Catholic Church.

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