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President's Blog: From the Heart

A Home for Mary

By Eric F. Spina

As a child, Melissa Kitchin ’95 pretended to be Indiana Jones as she explored the estate and garage sale “treasures” in her grandfather’s filled-to-the-brim garage.

“Through all those years I always felt her presence, a beautiful marble statue of Mary benevolently residing in the corner of that garage. She seemed a misplaced beauty who, in my child’s mind, transformed all the surrounding junk into wondrous treasures just by being there,” says Kitchin, senior director of internal communications and events at Cradlepoint.

When I took a field trip with art history professor Roger Crum to see the statue, I felt that same reverence. On Oct. 15, 2019, on what would have been the 100th birthday of Melissa’s grandfather, her family donated the sculpture to UD, where it has found a permanent home in the lobby of Curran Place.

The statue’s history is fascinating, and her journey to our Marianist university can only be described as long and winding. Most likely carved in Italy, the sculpture, representing the Madonna Immaculata, first made its way into the hands of the Marianists at Bergamo. For more than six decades it stood above the altar in the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel that was once within the former Normal School building at Mount St. John.

Here’s where the story takes a twist. Before demolishing the Normal School and its interior chapel in 1977, the Marianists held an auction.

“As grandpa told it, expecting nothing from that day except getting a bargain on a few things, he walked into the chapel, looked up and was immediately struck by her sweet face, unable to move,” recalls Melissa. “That’s a persistent memory I have of grandpa — his description of her sweet expression and the dramatic effect it had on him.”

Melissa’s grandfather, Addison Crabtree, then embarked on “a rescue mission” that involved a crane and a team of movers, but no definitive plan for the statue’s future other than to give it a proper home somewhere in his life. Until Crabtree died in 1985, the statue remained in his Beavercreek garage. “The sheer weight and delicacy needed to move her to a more appropriate location was, at the time, unfathomable,” Kitchin says.

Eventually, Kitchin’s mother, Patti Procuniar, had the 1,000-pound-plus statue moved to her garage in Bellbrook; soon the family began talking about its future, and that’s when the idea of donating it to UD came up. The University seemed like the perfect spot. After all, Patti had worked on campus for nearly 26 years, retiring in 2015 as a program assistant in the Center for International Programs. And Melissa holds a UD degree in international studies with a minor in marketing, her brother, Chris Martin, is an avid Dayton Flyer fan, and Melissa’s son Jack is now a first-year Flyer. And we’re a university with a special devotion to Mary.

Thanks to the generosity of the James Dicke family, we were able to send the statue to an art-restoration company in New York City for restoration and cleaning and to commission the fabrication of the statue’s base. From there, it was stored in a warehouse in New Jersey, a stint that lasted three years, much longer than anticipated because of the pandemic.

Fast forward to Oct. 14 when Mary was finally installed on a large, modern, pentagon-shaped pedestal of green laurentian granite in the lobby of Curran Place, outside the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and overlooking Old River Park and a solar prairie. The same team who created the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument on campus — art historian Roger Crum, sculptor and furniture designer M. Gary Marcinowski, S.M., and graphic designer John Clarke — are designing the space, which will include a meditation bench and quotations about Mary, nature, and our world etched on the statue’s base from the encyclical Laudato si’ of Pope Francis and the prayer Totus Tuus of Father Marty Solma, S.M., former Marianist provincial.

“I know with all my heart that Mary is finally where she was meant to be — sharing her grace and beauty with all at the University of Dayton and our community,” Melissa says. “My grandfather would be so proud and happy.”

(A formal dedication is planned for the spring. Click here for a story about the statue’s installation.)

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