The statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Therese the Little Flower have been a cherished part of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Forest Hills since it opened its doors in 1937.
On the morning on July 17, it took only minutes for a woman to drag them into the street and smash them. She is believed to be the same woman who toppled the statues on July 14.
Through the darkness came light, however, as community residents and organizations who joined forces to replicate the statues.
As of Monday, 129 people donated over $19,500 to a fundraiser posted on Go Fund Me started by Brian Allen on behalf of Knights of Columbus–Our Lady of Mercy Council and Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Academy.
The goal is $25,000. In addition, donations can be mailed to Our Lady of Mercy Statue Repair at 79-01 Kessel Street.
As an lector and 14-year parishioner at the church, Michael Conigliaro (also a District 29 City Council candidate), is playing a significant role in fundraising, protecting his parish, and speaking up about hate and vandalism. Upon learning about the crime, he contacted Deacon Dean Dobbins. He said,
“I reached out to a 112th Precinct colleague with a request that a patrol car be parked outside the church and it was granted,” said Michael Conigliaro, a lector and 14-year parishioner at the church.
Replacing the statues shows that hate or disrespect aimed towards any house of faith will not be tolerated.
“For people who pass the parish, they will always see the beauty of the statues and understand what they represent,” added Conigliaro. “Before someone considers performing an act of hate, they should try to empathize and consider what the effect of the damage will have on the community.”
“The statues were such an important element for a young child who needed that gentle but strong maternal figure in their lives” said Lori Jarema, who was a student at Our Lady of Mercy in the 60’s. “I love the pictures we took in front of Mary from my First Communion and graduation.”
Nancy J. O’Connor and her family were parishioners from 1951 to 2006.
“Replacing these statues for the current members and people who recall Our Lady of Mercy fondly sends a message that we will not be intimidated by this type of behavior,” she said. “Each day we see more reports of vandalism and violence, and these actions must have consequences.”
Although Andreea Sudresianu is not a parishioner, she contributed to the fund to replace the statues.
“I used to stop for a few moments and say a little prayer every time I passed by, and I rediscovered this beautiful place on my daily walks during the pandemic,” she said. “I always felt safe on these streets, but I wonder where that woman is and how she dared to do such a terrible thing.”