Shrine restores ‘Queen of Heaven’ statue

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | April 23, 2020

Image of Virgin Mary and infant Jesus made in 1936

CHAMPION — One of the most popular statues at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is that of the Queen of Heaven atop the back altar in the Apparition Chapel. The statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus has graced the chapel since the 1940s. The present chapel — the fourth built on the shrine grounds — was dedicated in July 1942.

The statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus has graced the Apparation Chapel’s back altar since the 1940s. It recently was restored by Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wis. (Corrie Campbell | Special to The Compass)

The statue was made in 1936 at DaPrato Statuary (now Daprato Rigali Studios) in Chicago. Once the original high altar was removed, the statue stood alone on a high chimney-like pedestal, which now forms the support of the back altar.

About two years ago, the shrine staff noticed that the statue, whose colors had faded over the years, had flaking paint. Since plans were in place to put in a new back altar, restoration was put on hold until mid-February this year. That statue was removed and shipped to Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin, Wis.

“We had signage up on the door,” Don Warden, chief operations officer, explained. “(It read:) ‘Where is the Queen of Heaven Statue?’”

Conrad Schmitt is the same company that did restoration work on the crucifixion mural at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay in 2017. Mary’s statue was gone about six weeks and returned to the shrine on March 30.

“It’s interesting when they did some of the painting work,” Warden noted. “They sent us a couple of pictures. One was of the headband on her (veil). My first reaction was, ‘Why would they add flowers on that headband?’”

So Warden reviewed some of the photos he had taken to record the paint damage on the statue. And he found evidence of faded flowers painted on the veil.

“Wow, there really are flowers there,” he said. “I just had never seen them before.”

The subject of the statue itself — Queen of Heaven — was chosen because, when Adele Brise saw the apparition of Mary in 1859, the Blessed Mother identified herself as “the queen of heaven.” There are a few statues like it around the country — though not many — and there will not likely be others. The molds and designs for this particular statue were destroyed in a 1968 fire at the Chicago studio.

Many shrine visitors ask for copies of the statue. Until now, their requests could not be filled. However, thanks to modern technology, replica statues may come in the near future.

After the statue was restored, the staff at Conrad Schmitt took it to a nearby metrology (calibration laboratory) company in Milwaukee that also has 3D scanners. Warden said that, after a four-hour process, they completed a 3D scan of the statue. It can be used to make molds and that could result in statue replicas that would be sold through the shrine’s gift shop.

The statue was returned to Champion and placed in a niche above the back altar in the Apparition Chapel. The archway can be backlit, which highlights the gold leaf as well as the restored paint colors. Warden says plans are in the works to update the lighting throughout the chapel.

While it remains the same Queen of Heaven statue that has been there for decades. It just may look different to visitors. Warden has noticed this himself. “For me, personally,” he said, “it seems like the infant Jesus stands out more.”

He reflected for a moment and said, “Maybe that’s by design, that she (Mary) wants us to focus more on her son.”

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