With Helias’ progress on the new additions of the science center and multi-sport complex, worries about placing another statue in the grotto have fallen to the way side. Twice, Helias has tried to have an adorned statue of Mary by the outside entrance of the school, but fate seems to doom her. The first was smashed by an unknown vandal. After which, a steel statue was put in its place, thought to be indestructible. The weather, however, would prove to the downfall of this one, causing the Sacred Virgin to rust. Two years now without a Mary statue in the grotto, and one question remains: Will Mary ever return to Helias?
The grotto came into being by the urging of Leon Vanderfeltz and Eddie Mulholland. The Vanderfeltz family has been a staple in the Helias community for generations. When the matriarch of the Vanderfeltz family, Rita Mae, became very sick, her granddaughter went to the grotto at Notre Dame and lit a candle on her behalf. This inspired her husband, Leon, to create a grotto at Helias where students could join together and pray, as they did at Notre Dame. The Vanderfeltz family donated the entire grotto, except the Blessed Virgin Mary statue. The original Mary statue was donated from a Catholic surplus store and refurbished. On an April night in 2013 however, someone trespassed on Helias Catholic’s campus and pushed Mary off her pedestal, smashing the adorned statue.
“Everyone was shocked that someone could trespass on our campus, and no one see it,” said religion teacher Christina Bockwinkel-Baker. “However, it was strangely unifying. People wanted Mary back. I think people realized it was meant to be more than just a statue with a bunch of flowers. It was meant to show our school connection to Notre Dame.”
Nearly a year after the original was smashed, the Vanderfeltz family pitched in again to help fund the return of Mary, and a new statue arrived. She was crafted from steel by a local artist who had previously sculpted the steel St. Joseph statue for St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The new Mary was honored with a May crowning, with the whole school in attendance and even four Helias alumni, that were attending seminary at the time. Mary was back and the grotto was complete again.
What people couldn’t predict was that she too would have a less than desirable fate. As her base began to rust, water got inside of the statue. When the days got hot, the water evaporated and condensed in the hollow interior. Mary was rusting from the inside out. Her exterior looked nearly the same, but when her interior was examined, the conclusion was reached that she could not be fixed well enough to be put outside again. The statue was taken away, and the grotto has now been without a statue for nearly two years. But the steel Mary statue has not been abandoned. Now being stored in the garage of Bill Vanderfeltz, she has been galvanized to stop the rusting, and there are plans to put her on the inside entrance of the science center, once it is completed.
To fill the empty archway of the grotto, Helias placed a white, metal cross as a general symbol of the Christian faith. But now even the white, metal archway that stood around the pedestal in the grotto is gone. It too has rusted, but will be back soon after it is sanded, treated, and repainted. So, will Mary ever return? Dan Vanderfeltz, son of Leon, has confirmed that a statue, be it Mary or something else, will return. The administration might be busy with construction, but the Vanderfeltz family is still determined to bring a statue back.
“Yes, we are going to get a statue in there soon,” said Vanderfeltz. “We don’t know for sure if it will be Mary, but it probably will be. We want to get the statue up before the end of the school year.”