A Sacred Heart Church parishioner, pausing for a prayer before a statue of the Blessed Mother, made a grisly discovery just before 8 a.m. Mass. Someone had hacked the outstretched hands from the statute, still wrapped in a garland of holiday evergreen. The small angels at her sides were beheaded.
DFP The Saint Joseph statue on the Myrtle Street side of the church was cut in half across the torso. The Sacred Heart statue, standing near the doorway of the former Sacred Heart High School on East Avenue, was beheaded.
The vicious act of vandalism was reported to Sacred Heart officials, who then learned over the course of the day the crime scene extended beyond their property to two miles across town at the grounds of the Divine Mercy Parish on West Chestnut Avenue. There, more religious statues were vandalized.
Vineland Police are asking the public for help in tracking down the suspects in the “heinous crime.” Evidence is leading investigators to believe the damage was done just before Tuesday’s storm or during it, but snow shrouded the damage until Thursday.
Josephine Walker, a longtime church member and Sacred Heart High School graduate, noted over the past few years the church community has weathered a parish merger and the closing of her beloved Sacred Heart High School. The vandalism was another crushing blow, she said. Each defaced statue was donated by families in memory of a loved one.
In 2005, the family of Josephine Finneran, donated the hard-carved marble statue featuring the Virgin Mary surrounded by several youngsters. The 1,400-pound sculpture, imported from Italy, was placed at the entrance of Bishop Schad Regional School, where her grandchildren attended.
The Finneran family learned Friday morning of the vandalism of Sacred Heart statues through a Facebook posting. Family members were at the school to survey their donated statue and initially thought it was spared, said Sharon Finneran.
But walking around the back of the artwork, she said, they noticed the back of the head of one of the youngsters was knocked off. The family plans to cover the statue until it is fixed, Finneran said.
The statue attack mirrors one reported in September at St. Mary’s in Malaga when eight statues were vandalized. Church officials are in the process of fixing the damaged artwork, said parishioner Leah Vassallo. One was so extensively damaged, she said, it will be replaced.
When he got home about 4 p.m. Thursday, Garofalo said, he got a call from Father Dominic Bottino who was attending an out-of-town meeting. He asked if there was a problem with the statues. Garofalo went back to the church and called Bottino back to report the sad news. As at Sacred Heart, the attacks focused on the heads and hands of a majority of the statutes.
The faces were smashed out of the Holy Family statute near the Divine Mercy entrance. Saint Michael was knocked off his pedestal. St. Francis, the namesake of the church before the merger, was beheaded. The face was slashed from what parishioners call the Kneeling Jesus statue.
“It’s so obscene,” Garofalo said, wondering aloud what would move someone to do such a thing. “There’s the shock of it,” he said. “And then I feel sad for the person who did this — what torment they must be in to have to release it in this way.” “It is distressing and you wonder why,” said Monsignor John Burton, also noting the “depth of the anger and hate that motivated this kind of thing,”