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The Missing Madonna Mystery

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Introduction by Mark Vruno

The day after Christmas, Fenwick Operations Director (and former Wrestling Coach) Jerry Ruffino received notice of a gift of sorts. This strange story began with a call from someone at Queen of Heaven Cemetery who had found a 42-inch plaster statue of the Virgin Mary in the parking lot near their chapel in Hillside. Taped to the statue’s chest was a hand-written note that read: “Return to Fenwick High School.”

“I called most of the Dominicans in the building here, asking ‘What’s up?’ and no one knew a thing,” Ruffino says. So he and his son, Pat, drove out to take a look. “She was beautiful and in great condition. The cemetery workers did not know how long she was in the parking lot,” Ruffino recalls. The statue stood in Fenwick’s maintenance area for a few days, “until we saw a signature on the base … she was an original Daprato statue.” (https://dapratorigali.com/our-legacy/).

Ruffino then called Daprato Rigali Studios, established in Chicago in 1860, and they came to look at her. “When they saw her, they were very excited and were happy to restore her,” he notes. “She was one of theirs.” The Rigali family, several of whom are Fenwick alums, decided to donate their restoration services: a $1,200 value! As of April 26, our statue of St. Mary, restored to her former glory, was returned to her rightful home after all these years. She now stands prominently in the school’s St. Dominic Chapel.

Father Peddicord conducted some research and found pictorial evidence of the St. Mary statue in a yearbook from 1952, suggesting that she is at least 65 years old. But when did the artwork go missing – and why? Therein lies the unsolved mystery. Nobody seems to know or remember anything! There is speculation that the statue disappeared in the 1980s or ’90s*.

To creatively “solve” the missing Madonna mystery, Fenwick held a Short Fiction Contest in March. Over the course of 10 days, 143 submissions from all class years came in anonymously to a judging body made up of teachers from the English Department. Entries had to fall under 750 words. Judges determined 17 finalists from which they declared one winner and four runners-up (see below). Here is the winning entry, which earned its author, senior student and Write Place tutor Declan Grogan, a $25 Amazon gift card!

Fiction Contest Winner
“Miracles”
by Declan Grogan ’17

       “At least she is dying with grace,” Max thought as he flipped the cold quarter in his hand. He looked around at the empty hallway and couldn’t help but feel a slight chill at the off-putting ambiance of Fenwick at night. The dark sky outside the window was speckled with the faint whiteness of the heavy snowfall. As he leaned up against the landing wall, he mindlessly flicked the coin into the air, fumbled the catch, and heard it hit the ground with a sharp ping. He so desperately wanted to be there, but with his whole family at the hospital and the snow causing traffic, he knew it could be a while before anyone came to get him. He was trapped, forced to wait as every part of him screamed for him to go. There was nothing he could do, everything he wanted to do, and only so much time left.

            Max pushed off the wall as he chastised himself for thinking that way. There was still hope that it could go into remission. Not much, but enough to keep her positive. She always did believe in miracles, and she certainly made sure her son did too. All the times he came home in tears, she would embrace him. “If it can get better it will,” she would say, giving a positive spin to the classic Murphy’s Law, “and it can always get better.” Max chuckled. He never really believed it, but he would always put on a smile for her. And yet, it didn’t really matter whether he believed it or not, because things always got better. So he decided that a belief in miracles might be worth it after all.

       It was hard to believe nowadays. She said it would get better months ago, but now she pays a visit to the hospital every other week. Things have only gotten worse day after day, and despite how hard he tries, he can’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. She always smiles, though, and greets him with the same loving embrace he has known for sixteen years. He would cherish the warmth he felt from her firm yet frail arms as she would ask the same question day after day, “How was your day at school?”

       Max took a breath as he bent over to pick up the quarter. “IN GOD WE TRUST,” he read right next to Geroge Washington’s face. “Miracles,” he whispered to himself as he turned to walk back to his leaning wall.

       As he looked up from the quarter, he stopped dead in his tracks as if a huge gust of wind had just hit him square on. He stared at her face, the beauty freezing him. He had passed by this same statue day after day, and yet had never noticed its absolute grace. He slowly gravitated towards her, admiring every detail that the sculptor had put in. The hands, the face, the shawl; they all seemed to radiate a fresh new light within the dim hallway. He stood at the statue’s feet and gazed into her eyes. As he reached out and touched the statue, he felt the familiar warmth of each embrace she had given him over the past four months. She had to have her.

       The statue had weight, but Max knew he could carry her. He quickly looked down the hallway, as if he had felt a presence emanated by his guilt. He wasn’t stealing her. He would return her; his mother just needed a friend that could accompany her to the grave. Who knows how long she would live; as soon as it was all over, he would make sure that Mary found her way back home. He grasped the base of the statue as he saw the headlights outside.

       “If we drive quickly, you can see your mother before you have to go home,” Max’s father said as he looked up from his watch to the struggling Max hobbling outside. “Wha… Is that a statue?” asked his father in disbelief.

       “It’s from inside,” Max stated while he approached the car.

       “It’s from Fenwick? Put it back!” Max’s father dismissed.

       Max stopped in his tracks and stood frozen. “I… I just thought…” he stammered out as his eyes began to water.

       As their eyes locked, his father suddenly looked at his son with compassion, and a pain overtook him. “Let me help you with that,” he said as he opened the car door.

Judges’ Comments on “Miracles”

“I appreciated "Miracles" for its balance of storytelling and restraint. Declan knew what to leave to a reader's imagination while still providing solid narrative - -character-driven story -- to hold rapt attention. I also enjoyed discovering the protagonist's motivations, tapping in on Our Lady as "Comforter of the Afflicted," amongst other roles.”

“Declan's story immediately engages the reader with a simple but poignant conflict and masterful use of well-chosen and realistic details. He reveals much of the psychology in the story indirectly and with subtlety. Declan manages to show how the disrespectful act of theft is in this case simultaneously a show of compassion and piety, and the understated interaction between the father and son leaves off on the perfect note.”

Read three of the Honorable Mentions:

Who Knows the True Story?

Father Peddicord will grant a full pardon to alumni or anyone who knows anything about what really happened to the statue. She’s home now, and that’s all that really matters. If you have a clue, please call at 708-386-0127 or email at communications@fenwickfriars.com. Let us know! 

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