- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - It’s no way to celebrate Christmas - two statues of Jesus left headless in the churchyard.

The vandalism that left the two statues decapitated and defaced is disturbing enough that parents of the children in the after-school playground next door asked the Rev. Dennis Willey to cover the figure closest to the children.

Professor Timothy Mays hopes to help restore a statue of Jesus at Sacred Heart Catholic Church that was decapitated in June. Cadets with the Citadel’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers are working with the church to help replace the damaged statues and assess other damages that have occurred over the years with the age of the 70 year old church.

That one is the Sacred Heart, a marble of Jesus with a young child, the signature figure of Willey’s Sacred Heart parish. But the two damaged statues - the marble and the one right out front on King Street - are, in some ways, the least of Willey’s worries.

“Our roof leaks. We’ve got electrical issues, gutters and downspouts issues,” he said. Plexiglas sheets set years ago to cover the stained-glass windows never were vented. Now the paint is starting to wash off the stained glass. He doesn’t even know what other structural safety issues there might be with the 75-year-old church.

Nobody in the 180-family congregation has the expertise to judge, and the parish doesn’t have the resources to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the evaluation work. Insurance will pay for most of the statue restoration. Willey needed something of a miracle to pay for the rest.

This is where Christmas begins.

Among Willey’s other missions, he is the Catholic chaplain for The Citadel, the military college just down the road, where he’s a favorite of the cadets. Looking for a Christmas public service project, the cadets in the school’s American Society of Civil Engineers chapter, didn’t have to search far.

“Just to be able to give back for all he’s given us,” said Cadet Zach Eulo.

The chapter club will evaluate the building and leaky slate roof for deficiencies, and, working with area professionals, propose and prioritize repairs, as well as provide cost estimates. Timothy Mays, coastal engineering professor, estimated the value of the donated work at as much as $100,000.

The cadets also will ask other organizations to donate assistance. Cadets will take part in repair work, and take on individual jobs as cadet service projects. Eulo and Cadet Zach Peters are talking about restoring the now-unused rectory, turning it back into a livable space.

The entire effort “is a chance to work on something useful, and plus it’s good for the community,” Peters said.

As a capstone donation, the club is raising money to help defray costs, starting with paying an insurance deductible of at least $2,000 for the restoration of the statues.

“It will really be a gift,” Willey said. In its heyday, Sacred Heart was a major downtown parish, with a congregation of some 500 families. But the highway came, people moved to the suburbs. Things changed. Sacred Heart’s dilemma isn’t much different than a lot of downtown churches. The buildings might be historic, but the infrastructures are just old.

“It’s daunting,” Willey said. He has read that an earlier Sacred Heart pastor, who faced building repairs during the Great Depression, heavy heartedly asked the congregation to dig deep and come up with an extra 5 cents per week.

“Five cents,” Willey said. “I’m thinking, wow, I wish I could write a letter like that to fix everything.”

A man wielding a sledgehammer in June was arrested for decapitating and defacing the street-front statue and told police he did it because the Ten Commandments bar the public display of any image depicting people, according to the report. No one has been arrested for the vandalism on the marble Sacred Heart.

The Scripture quoted on the street-front statue reads, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.”

___

Information from: The Post and Courier, https://www.postandcourier.com

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