Collection of Madonnas helps ground parish in its identity, pastor says

Judy Kelly, left, and Alice Colombo, parishioners of Ascension Church, looked at a collection of statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary on display in the parish’s Ave Maria Room May 9. The collection includes 358 Madonnas and is a gift to Ascension by Jim Mackin, a parishioner who died more than 20 years ago. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Ascension Church, 4600 Lynnbrook Drive, is home to a collection of 358 statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The statues large and small — crafted of wood, ceramic, blown glass, clay, bronze and porcelain — depict Mary in the stages of her life. From cradling the baby Jesus to her Assumption into heaven, the Blessed Mother depictions are displayed in four lighted display cases in the parish’s Ave Maria Room. The Madonnas are a gift left to the church by parishioner Jim Mackin, who died more than 20 years ago.

Father Adam Carrico, who serves as pastor of Ascension, said the Madonnas have served to ground the parish in its identity and they even point towards eternity.

Unlike parishes named for a patron saint, Ascension is dedicated to one of the mysteries of Jesus.

“We don’t have a patron saint to ground us in history. It can feel like something is lost” but the gift made more than 20 years ago has helped to ground the parish in its identity, he said.

Father Carrico said Jesus’ Ascension into heaven can seem like a “distant reality” and something that doesn’t involve Jesus’ followers personally. That is not so, and the Blessed Mother helps with that understanding, he said.

“The Ascension can seem like it just involves Jesus, but it involves us personally. The Ascension shows where we’re headed and the Assumption helps to remind us we can be brought there” to heaven, said Father Carrico. “The Assumption and the understanding of who Mary is helps us to connect to that seemingly distant reality.”

The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus ascended into heaven. The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter. His mother, the Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven. The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on Aug. 15.

The collector of the Marian statues, the late Jim Mackin and his mother were longtime parishioners of Ascension.

Statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary are seen in a lighted display case in Ascension Church’s Ave Maria Room. They are part of a collection left as a gift to Ascension by Jim Mackin, a parishioner who died more than 20 years ago. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

They had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, according to Judy Kelly, a parishioner who was the director of worship and music when the collection was donated to Ascension. She said that Mackin was a seminarian at one time but never pursued the priesthood. Mackin’s devotion led him to look for and purchase these Madonnas anywhere in the world he traveled. As a veteran of World War II, Mackin had traveled with the U.S. Army, as well as on his own, said Father Carrico.

When the parish first received the collection, about 75 of the Madonnas were displayed at a time, with the remainder stored in the church’s basement, said Kelly. The display was rotated throughout the year so eventually, all of the images could be seen by parishioners, she said.

A fourth display case was recently donated by parishioner Alice Colombo, in honor of her son Alan Colombo and her husband John Colombo who both died. The fourth case will allow all the statues to be kept in the Ave Maria Room. Every image is still not on display. Those that aren’t displayed are kept in the cases’ locked drawers.

Father Carrico blessed and rededicated the Ave Maria room May 9, Mother’s Day.

Kelly said Mackin was concerned that no one would want the collection, which was kept at the home he shared with his mother. After the Madonnas came to Ascension, Kelly recalled helping to clean each individual statue, looking into the faces and being struck by what she saw.

“It struck me that every emotion that a mother experiences in her life is expressed on the faces of these Madonnas, from sheer joy to absolute pain,” said Kelly. “That’s fascinating. You can then identify. It gives hope to mothers that if she experienced it, we can.”

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