This new statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands outside the Toronto school named after the saint. It’s a replacement for one that was stolen back in November from outside the downtown school.

Anonymous donor sparks return of St. Francis to his rightful spot

  • May 18, 2011

TORONTO - He once was lost but now is found.

A new statue of St. Francis of Assisi was unveiled and blessed May 13 at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy. The previous statue was stolen and vandalized in mid-November.

The original statue was a white garden statue of St. Francis not more than three feet tall. The new statue stands at four feet and features the distinctive Franciscan brown habit in colour.

The driving force behind replacing the statues was an an anonymous donor, whose initial donation sparked an outpouring of generosity from the school community, says principal Connie Giordano.

The Hamilton, Ont., businessman came to the school and spoke with Giordano about making a $200 donation to replace the statue. Although he wasn’t Catholic, he made the donation because he had an admiration for St. Francis, Giordano said.

The donor would make a one-hour trek every morning from Hamilton, being sure to take Clinton Street to his shop in Mirvish Village just so he could see the statue on his way to work.

The donor said he, like Francis, was an animal lover and was inspired daily by the visual reminder of St. Francis, Giordano said.

After hearing this news, students, teachers and some members of the community more than tripled his donation, raising more than $700 for a new statue.

Initially, news of the stolen statue hit students like 12-year-old Emily Medeiros hard, especially after the statue’s head was found down the street from the school. Medeiros says she was “shocked” that somebody would want to steal the statue.

But having the new statue “shows how our school is religious in our faith,” Medeiros said.

“We just felt incomplete,” Giordano explained.

During the blessing, Franciscan Father Fred Mazzarella highlighted St. Francis’ values.

“He was like us, very simple and humble,” Mazzarella told the 120 students gathered for the blessing.

And St. Francis imparted the lesson of “appreciat(ing) everything you can in life.”

As for the anonymous donor’s gesture, Giordano said students saw St. Francis’ example of humility come to life: “They learned a valuable life lesson about giving without recognition.”

It’s countercultural from the obsession to “be famous.”

“To do something anonymously is something (the students) appreciate,” Giordano explained.

Having the statue is a “symbol of our faith and reminder to the community that Catholic education is alive and well in our street,” she said.

The donor was at the blessing ceremony but quietly left. He wanted the spotlight to be on the saint and the students, she said.

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