On Sunday, September 10, 2023, Marist School Rector Father Bill Rowland, S.M. blessed and dedicated an historic sunken relief sculpture of St. Peter Chanel that was recently affixed to the northeast side of Marist School’s main classroom building, St. Peter Chanel Hall. The sculpture, originally part of the façade of St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio, was installed at Marist over the summer, ending its 700-mile journey to its new home at Marist School. The limestone carving will serve as a daily reminder of the selflessness and enthusiasm the first Marist saint displayed in the missionary endeavors he was called by God to pursue.
The engraved stone representation of Chanel graced the entrance of St. Peter Chanel High School from when the school first opened its doors on September 4, 1957 until the school was demolished in 2020 by the Bedford City School Board to make way for new public school buildings. It was the work of impassioned alumnus Jim Caputo from St. Peter Chanel’s Class of 1980, and several other fellow alumni, who saved the sculpture from the wrecking ball.
“It was an emotional and spiritual journey to get the engraving here to Marist School, and the hand of God played a role throughout,” said Caputo.
After an enrollment in its heyday of 1,200 boys and girls, St. Peter Chanel High School closed in 2013, and the building stood vacant until 2020. Several Chanel alumni, including Sam Fiorentino from the Class of 1960, formed the St. Peter Chanel Foundation to carry on the legacy of the school for its alumni through scholarships, outreach, and service. The foundation made a plea to save the school building, but to no avail.
When Caputo learned the school would be torn down, he jumped into action to find a company that could remove the sculpture from the building. In a series of coincidences that can only be attributed to the grace of God, he encountered various Chanel alumni who volunteered to assist with everything from removing the sculpture from the building, bringing it to the ground, and providing a utility trailer capable of hauling the heavy carving.
Next, Caputo turned his attention to finding a new home for the sculpture. In a Google search, he found a church named for St. Peter Chanel, but they could not take the piece. Then, he googled “Marist priests” and Marist School popped up. He called then school president Fr. Rowland and, in another God moment, learned that Fr. Rowland had been a student at St. Peter Chanel High School and that other priests well known in the Marist School community had taught there, including Bishop Joel Konzen, S.M., Fr. Ralph Olek, S.M., Fr. Jim Hartnett, S.M., Fr. Bill Seli, S.M., and Fr. Jim McGoldrick, S.M.
“I received an inquiry from the St. Peter Chanel Foundation about whether Marist School would be willing to host the relief here on campus. Chanel High School, as we often referred to it, was about to be torn down, and the alumni there wanted to preserve the Marist tradition that the engraving symbolizes,” recalled Fr. Rowland. “I told them that Marist School would be happy to become the home of the sunken relief and the memories associated with it. Several St. Peter Chanel alumni went to great lengths to remove it and move it to its new home here, demonstrating their love for the school and the Marists.”
Caputo and his wife Michele drove the sculpture down to Atlanta from Ohio in summer 2020, and, three years later, they, along with Fiorentino, were able to join Fr. Rowland and Fr. Olek for the dedication, which preceded the opening Family Mass of the school year.
In his dedication, Fr. Rowland said, “This relief sculpture will honor those whose lives were formed in the Marist Way at St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. We are pleased to be the new home for this important piece of Marist history and to carry on its tradition to ‘seek what is above.’”
Principal Mr. Kevin Mullally remarked, “Marist School counts itself fortunate to house the St. Peter Chanel engraving that marks the partnership and spiritual heritage shared among the schools of the Society of Mary. Our school community will remember and honor the man whose image is depicted in the sculpture and also the high school in Bedford, Ohio that bore his name.”
During brief remarks at the Family Mass, Caputo emphasized, “The engraving is now watching over all of us.”
The installation of the St. Peter Chanel sculpture at Marist School was made possible in part through a fund-a-wish project during the 2023 Auction, a collaborative fundraising event put on by the Marist Parents Club, the Marist Booster Club, and the Marist Arts Guild.
Let us pray,
Loving Father, we present to you this engraved sculptor of St. Peter Chanel. It honors those Marist priests, brothers, and lay partners who educated young people at St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. From 1973 – 2013, thousands of students entered as hesitant and awkward first-year students, only to graduate as confident and purposeful young adults. The Society of Mary rejoices in the quality of its graduates and their contributions to their communities, our nation, and the Church. We ask your blessings upon this relief sculpture of St. Peter Chanel. Its memories and values will be enshrined and cherished, but now at Marist School, whose mission stresses the pursuit of excellence in all things in the spirit of Mary. Marist School enjoys a kinship with St. Peter Chanel High School that inspired its students to do likewise but with these words, as its motto, "Seek what is above." We ask this through Christ our Lord and with the special intercession of Mary, whose spirit we seek to make our own in all we do. Amen.
Mary Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us. Amen.