Parishioner’s labor of love restores vandalized statue at California church – Catholic World Report

Michael Stucchi poses in front of the restored statue of Jesus with Children at St. Mel’s Church in Woodland Hills, California. / Photo credit: Tom Hoffarth. See the CNA article for the full slideshow.

Woodland Hills, Calif., Nov. 5, 2022 / 8:00 a.m. (CNA).

In the darkness of an early Saturday morning last March 19, Father Steve Davoren and his golden lab, Blue, stepped out through the back exit of the parsonage of St. Mel’s Church in Woodland Hills, California, for a race before dawn.

But before he could begin, the priest’s heart sank when he saw what the spotlights pointing at the church’s iconic group of statues of Jesus and three children revealed.

Grainy security footage captured only the arm of a person repeatedly swinging an unidentified weapon at the statues. Pieces have fallen from what has long been a centerpiece of the parish, in a highly visible spot on busy Ventura Boulevard.

Chunks of mottled concrete peeking out from twisted and exposed rebar were everywhere: in the raised flowerbed flanked by white rose bushes, in the parking lot, on the sidewalk next to the parish office.

Davoren immediately called the church’s business manager, Lisa Feliciano, who put on a hoodie and came right over.

“It was awful,” Feliciano said. “But now we were putting pieces in a box, crying. I couldn’t believe anyone could have so much hate for doing this.

Feliciano filed a police report with the surveillance video, which she described as “two minutes of torture.”

“I see it and it still makes me cry,” she said.

Details of damaged statues of Jesus at St. Mel's Church in Woodland Hills, California.  Photo credit: Michael Stucchi
Details of damaged statues of Jesus at St. Mel’s Church in Woodland Hills, California. Photo credit: Michael Stucchi

It fell to Davoren to explain the attack to parishioners the following day during Sunday masses, preaching understanding and forgiveness instead of anger and frustration.

“To me, the irony of it was that the person who did it must have been a broken person themselves,” said Davoren, a pastor at St. Mel’s since 2018. “From the scriptures, we know we need to pray. for people who feel compelled to destroy.”

Michael Stucchi heard Davoren’s message loud and clear this weekend. A systems software engineer by trade, Stucchi found satisfaction working for the parish to restore four church statues in the past as well as statues of Nativity scenes.

He was their humble confidant. But it was something bigger.

“When I spoke to Father Steve about it a few days after it happened, I admit I was angry, angry, outraged because the statues were special to me and my family,” Stucchi said, whose son works in the parish office. “But then I heard his sadness and his concern for the mental state of the person who damaged the statues. It sounds so much like him. It really changed my paradigm from reactive to proactive – to wonder if I could look for ways to fix them.

“Father Steve’s compassion is what Jesus would have us have. Everyone who works here is in the same spirit of love and forgiveness. We have no idea of ​​the terrible things in this person’s life.

Stucchi and Feliciano began the reconstruction by collecting and studying photographs of the statues to examine all of their features. The depiction of Jesus stands about 6 feet tall and weighs about 1,000 pounds; each child on its own concrete base weighs approximately 300 pounds.

The collection dates from the 1950s, when the parish was first built. It was once part of a fountain in front of the school office and was later moved near the west doors of the church in the 1990s when the new parish center was built.

Feliciano had contacted the Archdiocese of Los Angeles about filing an insurance claim and was told the repair could cost up to $30,000.

Stucchi said he could handle it, at no cost to the parish.

This came as no surprise to Feliciano, who calls Stucchi “a true angel”.

“Look at the difference between someone filled with hate and destruction…and then someone like Michael who spends his time showing pure love and joy putting it back together,” Feliciano said. “Both are our neighbours, they live among us. How can there be such a big difference in someone’s heart and soul?

Michael Stucchi has reconstructed the statues at St. Mel's Church in Woodland Hills, California, where they might even be in better shape when finished.  Photo credit: Michael Stucchi
Michael Stucchi has reconstructed the statues at St. Mel’s Church in Woodland Hills, California, where they might even be in better shape when finished. Photo credit: Michael Stucchi

Stucchi experimented with different combinations of compounds – crushed marble, white Portland cement and waterproof exterior grout. Most of the work had to be done on site, with some parts being transported to the garage of his house.

“I was very careful not to make anything worse,” Stucchi said, noting that the materials often dried too quickly in the summer heat, leading to more delays. “The saddest part for me was the damage done to Jesus. We know enough about the pain and suffering that Jesus went through in his life, but to see an image of him erased is too much.

Slowly and meticulously, Stucchi put the statues back to where they might even be in better condition now due to how time and age had already caused cracking and decay before vandalism.

Seven months later, Stucchi still has some finishing touches – and a whole lot of gratitude.

“As the sacrifice and commitment of a priest is beyond my comprehension or ability, after seeing their dedication and that of other volunteers and staff, I felt it was the least I could do,” said said Stucchi. “Nevertheless, the Catholic Church was always there for me when I was a child and young adult.”

From a business perspective, Feliciano said the experience taught him the need for better security. The statues were also vandalized in 2021 when someone painted the faces green, but it was easy enough to repaint them white.

“As a parishioner, Michael’s kindness reminds me that there is kindness in the world,” said Feliciano, who noted the 100-degree days Stucchi spent with the statue last summer. “I remember praying for the person who was filled with enough hate to do the damage and thank God for blessing us and Michael.”

Father Davoren believes that “to some degree we are all broken and damaged, but our faith in God’s love allows people like Michael to have the tenderness to painstakingly piece together these pieces of the statue.

“It’s about giving people the right amount of grace to bounce back in their lives.”

This article has been first published on November 2, 2022in Angelus News and is reproduced with permission.

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