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Ohio artist restores religious statues, stirs memories of closed parishes

22 PAGE 7.27.17_artistArtist Lou McClung paints a statue of Mary in his studio at the Museum of Divine Statues in Lakewood, Ohio, July 18. He has restored dozens of statues, many from closed churches in the Diocese of Cleveland that are now displayed in the museum he operates. (CNS photo/courtesy Lou McClung, Museum of Divine Statues)

July 27, 2017
Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

LAKEWOOD, Ohio – St. Elizabeth of Hungary stands tall, the bread in her right hand, a gift to the poor, looks like it may have just come from the oven. The roses at her waist, visible from an opening in her cloak, are a symbol of God’s protection.

The saint as depicted by a 19th-century sculptor has plenty of other companions. There is St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus, St. Stanislaus, the martyred bishop of Poland, and St. Sebastian with arrows piercing his body, seemingly just recently.

The statues are among dozens that have been carefully restored by Lou McClung, a professional artist, who has made it his vocation – and avocation – to preserve artifacts from closed churches in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere. He displays them in what is now a 7-year-old venture called the Museum of Divine Statues.

The museum is housed in the former St. Hedwig Church, which served Poles in this west side, inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. McClung opened the museum six years ago with a small number of statues and artifacts. It has burgeoned to a thoughtfully designed exhibition space with more than 200 artifacts that include reliquaries, crucifixes, a monstrance from Germany and stained-glass windows.

McClung told Catholic News Service he is driven by the desire to keep some of the artifacts from closed parishes from being forgotten or sold to far-off churches. Along the way he hopes visitors can enjoy and learn from them.

And perhaps even be inspired.

“I don’t care what brings them here as long as visitors get something out of it when they visit, that means something to them when they leave” said McClung, a graduate of the diocesan school system. “At the very least they can have a respect for people who live a Catholic life and have their beliefs.”

McClung recalls seeing visitors from some of the diocese’s closed parishes who have rediscovered a statue of a saint they prayed before in years past. Others have stood silently as if in deep reflection on the life of a beloved saint.

McClung said he envisions turning the museum into a fully professional operation with a staff of experts.

Current exhibits already are interactive. Visitors receive a tablet they can use to scan QR codes to learn about the artifacts and the history behind them. Video screens guide visitors through the history of Cleveland parishes and other historical events.

In addition, McClung is looking to develop multimedia stories about the ministry of women religious as well as the ethnic communities to which the closed churches were once home. It’s the stories of faithful people serving the church and each other that will draw visitors and keep people engaged, he said.

He also wants to add art from the 15th and 16th centuries, the time period from which 19th- and 20th-century sculptors of the statues on display often drew inspiration for their work. The idea is to show the connection between the art and the statues that people so revered.

For now though, McClung and volunteers will continue to operate the museum. It may not be a divine calling, but McClung thinks it’s not a coincidence that he’s overseeing a place where people find inspiration.

“I don’t know how to say it. I think this is what I’m supposed to do. It feels kind of like a service. People have different focuses and ways they live their life. So this is one of the things I’m supposed to do,” he told CNS.

“It’s exciting. It’s a lot of work. But every time I step in here and look around, I know that it’s worth it.”

Editor’s Note: More information about the Museum of Divine Statues is available online at http://museumofdivinestatues.com.

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