The vandalized bronze statues at Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in Sudbury, Ont., have been recast and were installed in late May. Photo by David Sirois

Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in Sudbury is restored

  • June 1, 2022

Spring and Summer 2020 was rocked by a wave of vandalism at religious sites all across Canada and the United States.

One of the most shocking incidents from this epidemic of violence that was sparked in large part by the death of Black man George Floyd at a white police officer’s hands occurred at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Sudbury, Ont,, where on May 22 the heads and limbs were severed from six Stations of the Cross statues.

Long considered a hidden gem nestled in the downtown core of this northern Ontario city, the landmark’s splendour was restored almost two years to the day. On May 19 and 20, replicas of the bronze statues, fashioned by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, were installed in the historic grotto founded in 1907. The statues were instituted in 1953.

David Sirois, assistant financial administrator for the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, witnessed the mechanical work and snapped photos of the new additions. . Reaching this day was affirming.

“We are very happy,” said Sirois. “There are people now walking the trail who are excited to see the statues, finally. For two years during COVID-19, people visited and saw a constant reminder that vandalism occurred there.

“The grotto is so distinctive because it is one of the very few full green spaces in downtown Sudbury, and since it’s on a hill, you get a nice view of the whole city. It is so tranquil. People can come to relax and contemplate on anything they want.”

As a youth, Siriois would take classroom trips to the grotto to complete the Stations of the Cross. In adulthood, he visited this site — also graced with flowers and a fountain with over 300 water jets — for relaxation and prayerful meditation.

Sirois imagines an occasion where Bishop Thomas Dowd blesses the revitalized Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the near future.

Schmalz began his restorative work in early 2021. He sent pictures of the first couple clay statues to the diocese to ascertain if the work to date was solid. The artist received the green light to proceed the rest of the way. 

After creating the clay sculptures by hand, Schmalz turned to lost-wax casting to create 3-D moulds of the clay iterations. Bronze was then poured at a European foundry to create the hollow pieces constituting each statue. A coat of patina was added to each replica to give these new statues a similar aesthetic to the untouched originals still in the grotto.

Schmalz completed the work in late 2021, and the statues were shipped to the diocese. However, installation work is not ideal in the colder months so the sculptures had to be stored until proper weather arrived.

Expenses were not disclosed, but Sirois said insurance covered most of the cost. Pandemic restrictions shelved an intended fundraiser to help cover the maintenance expenditures. This event is rescheduled for Sept. 29 at the Caruso Club restaurant. 

Now that the grotto’s majesty is restored, Sirois said the diocese hopes to generate increased visitor interest.

“Hopefully we can promote the site and hold some celebrations in the grotto like we did before the pandemic,” he said. “There was a Canada Day celebration and groups like the Knights of Columbus hosted events.”

One element of this two-year saga that did not receive closure was discovering the identity of the vandals and figuring out a motive. A crime for financial gain — selling the bronze — is most credible in the diocese’s view.

Multiple security cameras are now installed to monitor the site.   

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