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South Ozone Park parish saves for new Mary statue

By Sarina Trangle

Parishioners accustomed to a Virgin Mary statue greeting them at St. Mary Gate of Heaven Parish in South Ozone Park will likely have to wait a year to see the familiar figure.

Donations for a new figurine have been pouring in from across the country since parish staff discovered the statue had been decapitated Jan. 6.

But the Rev. Gerald Fitzsimmons said the parish’s first priority is to fix the plumbing in the convent, which is expected to eat up most of this year’s capital projects budget.

The priest said the parish pastoral council will convene to discuss plans to replace the Virgin Mary and landscape the surrounding greenspace sometime next year.

Fitzsimmons said the parish, at 103-12 101st Ave., is not currently soliciting money for the project, but has heard from close to 70 people seeking to help the church.

“When you’re dealing with St. Mary Gate of Heaven, or really any parish in this area, you’re dealing with parishes that have thousands and thousands of families connected with them for decades and decades,” he said. “We’re getting e-mails from Florida, New Jersey, Long Island, all over.”

The priest said he had not begun to assess the value of the 4-foot-tall, marble statue or how much it would cost for a modern rendition. Because the church and police could not find the head, repairing the Virgin Mary figurine is not an option.

“You wouldn’t be able to fashion a model head on it. It would look like a wound,” Fitzsimmons said, noting that parish staff estimate the statue was 50 years old. “Usually you would not replace it with marble, you would do something cast in cement.”

He said a parish pastoral council committee would discuss all the logistics.

In the meantime, Fitzsimmons said the church grounds have a few other religious sculptures, including one of the Virgin Mary, that offer passers-by a moment of devotion.

The priest said St. Mary Gate of Heaven did not have security cameras, but officers planned to review surveillance from nearby buildings.

“People are offended and hurt and feel a little bit violated,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m glad the police are taking it seriously.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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