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Everyone knows where Rome is. But Inverness, IL? Not so famous. Yet, in this small village (population 7,300) 35 miles northwest of Chicago, Holy Family Parish is hosting the first authorized exact replica of one of the world's most famous masterpieces: La Pieta', Michelangelo's moving and evocative portrayal of Mary holding the crucified body of her son in her lap. Holy Family is the first church in the Archdiocese of Chicago, in fact in Illinois, to be granted this honor. Only three other churches in the United States have been so privileged.
Marie Fallon, Cardinal Francis George, Steven Bishop and Bob Fallon at the unveiling of La Pieta' at Holy Family.
Moved by seeing the Pieta in St. Peter's in Rome, Steven Bishop, an American entrepreneur, through contacts in the Vatican, was put in touch with the Vatican Observatory Foundation, which granted him the first and exclusive worldwide license, to cast an exact replica from the mold of the original and distribute it. Bishop said, "I have seen the reaction of people who have seen the original. It reaches the souls of viewers, so for me (making the replica available) is a mission and a calling."
Bishop formed a company, headquartered in Las Vegas, to accomplish his mission: Vescovo Buonarroti Art LLC. The name derives from the Italian word for bishop, "vescovo," and Michelangelo's last name, Buonarroti. Michelangelo sculpted the original, lifesized masterwork from marble in 1498, when he was just 24 years old. He depicts the Virgin with a young face, eyes downcast, grief evident in her expression. She cradles the limp body of her Son almost as she might have cradled the infant in Bethlehem. The By Virginia Mullery
Michelangelo's debut in Inverness human details lifted out of stone by the artist are unforgettable: the folds of Mary's garment, the pressure and support of her hands on Christ's body, the limpness of His muscles in death.
The replica was molded using a proprietary marble blend and took about a year to complete. It has been painstakingly hand finished by master artisans and is complete to the smallest detail, including Michelangelo's signature on Mary's sash. It was the only piece the artist ever signed.
One of fewer than five replicas that will tour the United States, South America and Europe, the statue is on display in the narthex, or vestibule, of Holy Family from Feb. 23, when it was unveiled and See MULLERY on page 26 blessed by Francis Cardinal George, through the end of May. Holy Family was chosen from a number of applicants, Bishop said, because of its size and ability to handle a large number of viewers. Founded in 1986, the congregation has worshiped in the present church since 1989. There are 4,000 registered families, said Colin Collette, director of worship, and some 3,000 people attend weekend Masses. The narthex, one-third the size of the worship space, seats 600, which allows ample room for crowds of viewers.
Bob Fallon, whose wife, Marie, heads the parish's Marian ministry, a group that gathers weekly for Mass and the Rosary, is largely responsible for Holy Family being chosen. Ria Raffi, sister of Lisa McLaughlin, a member of the ministry, works with Bishop and told Fallon about the project. He spent five days on the phone convincing Bishop that this tiny dot on the map would be the perfect venue during Lent and Mary's month of May.
One of his selling points, the 2,000 people who attended a four-hour service two years ago when the Marian ministry hosted Ivan Dragicevich, one of the visionaries to whom Our Lady appeared in Medugorje. McLaughlin was one of the 2,000. Fallon traces the dots from McLaughlin to Raffi to Bishop to the Pieta'. "We believe firmly," Fallon said, "that this is the Blessed Virgin's work. It is not a coincidence that Holy Family got the statue."
Virginia Mullery is a freelance writer living in North Chicago, IL.