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Caring for a Sacred Icon

Seminarians work together to restore symbolic "Black Jesus" grotto

Craig Marion, Sacred Heart seminarian

It all began with a chat with faculty member Sr. Mary Finn one evening in the early spring. She asked me as the college student president if there was something the seminarian's could do about tending to the Sacred Heart of Jesus grotto on the northwest corner of the campus.

Sister Mary was aware that a few years back funding had fallen through to refurbish the iconic "Black Jesus" grotto. I thought it was possible the seminarians could do the job. Sister and I discussed the situation with our new rector, Msgr. Todd Lajiness, and he granted approval for the seminarians to go to work.

Handy with Tools

Sacred Heart is blessed to have seminarians with construction backgrounds, so with them we all walked to the grotto to assess the project. It was clear all of the slate stairway tiles surrounding the statue would have to be removed and then re-mortared back down. It also was clear the Sacred Heart statue would require sanding and a great deal of detail work.

We presented a plan to Monsignor, which he and Archbishop Allen Vigneron approved. The slate work was labor intensive and at certain points we had to use a jackhammer to pull certain pieces of slate out. It was also clear as we were hammering that we would need a significant amount of concrete.

Our project leader, Christopher Muer, was able to provide good direction on how to use certain tools and power equipment. Paul Graney, Mark Livingston, John Bettin and Christopher Cullen worked closely with re-laying all of the slate. Patrick Setto was the in charge of the repairing and repainting the statue itself.

"What Are You Doing?"

Several times, neighbors walking or driving by asked us, "What are you doing?" We explained the grotto was in need of repairs and we were doing our best to see to the job.

We quickly discovered that our neighbors identify deeply with the statue, whose hands, feet and face were painted black during the 1967 civil disturbance. Especially while jack hammering, some neighbors expressed concern we may be removing the grotto or drastically changing it. After explaining about the repairs, so many were so pleased.

Coming Together

After about three hundred hours of work—from mixing and pouring sixteen hundred pounds of concrete to re-laying slate tile; from detail edging the walk itself to repainting the statue—we finished the project. It was completed over the summer recess, in April and August, at very little cost to the seminary.

Most importantly, it gave many seminarians a way to come together as a team caring for something important to Sacred Heart, the surrounding neighborhood and the city of Detroit within which we live.