In the process of honoring our past and building for the future, I went to visit Chris Hart, parishioner and local artisan also known as the “Saint Painter.” We asked her if she would take our status and recondition for our new church. The progress is going very well. In the course of the process of stripping, cleaning, and preparing the statue, Chris wrote a moving blog entry about her specific experience with our St. Anne statue (possibly the oldest of all our statues) and her childhood memories which taught her about unconditional love. I found it quite personal, educational, and spiritually moving. With her permission, I include her story below.
Fr. William Holtzinger
The Patron Saint of Unconditional Love, St. Anne
by Chris Hart
I was one of those children that did not look forward to kindergarten. Actually, I hated it. I disliked the first day, the second day and all the days that followed. I simply didn't understand why I needed to leave the quiet bliss of the outdoors and sit in a stuffy classroom. I much preferred going barefoot in warm powdery dust to wearing shoes on a waxed linoleum floor. I would rather pick wildflowers while exploring a creek bed than read a book about picking wildflowers while exploring a creek bed. I was easily brought to tears by Sister Martha's strict humorless teaching style. There was not one thing about going to school I liked.
My mother would cheerfully drive me every morning as I begged her to let me stay home. She would patiently walk me to the door promising to pick me up in the afternoon. I was determined to never let her forget the anxiety and misery I felt. Finally, one especially exasperating morning she walked me into the church on our way to class. It was empty and dim with that familiar smell only a Catholic church seems to have. She stood in front of a St. Anne statue and told me the story of St. Anne, explaining that she was Mary's mother and Jesus' Gramma.
This particular statue was about 5 feet tall and depicts St. Anne teaching her young daughter, Mary to read. My mother told me that Mary was born late in St. Anne's life just like I had been and St. Anne felt her daughter was a blessing, not an inconvenience just like my mother felt about me. She said St. Anne valued education over stuff just like she did. She explained that St. Anne wanted only the best for her daughter just like my own mother wanted for me. I looked at the statue for a long time. It had beautiful deep rich colors with shining Gold leaf accents. I was mesmerized by the faces and how their eyes reflected the same deep love I saw in my mother's eyes every time she looked at me. In that moment, I realized how much my mother loved me.
This Mothers Day, almost 60 years later, I began the task of restoring a very old damaged St. Anne statue for a nearby Catholic church. It seemed like a good day to work in my studio since my mother has been gone almost 4 years and I still feel sad on this day. Even now I find new ways to miss her, remembering things I forgot to ask and forgetting she isn't here to call. I held part of the statue in my lap and I patiently dissolved layer after layer of old paint, touched up by many well-intentioned people over the years. As I carefully removed the different colors, parts of the original finish began to show through. As damaged as it was, I recognized something as a wash of tears came over me. I was working on the same statue my mother had introduced me to years ago. How masterfully my mother had used the story of another mother, St. Anne, to help me understand what is most important. Just like the layers of paint I was removing, she had peeled away the layers of excuses, showing me the meaning of unconditional love.