Calls for compassion after vandalism at cathedral, downtown church

  • Written by Brian LeBlanc
  • Published in Local
“Mary with the Child Jesus” was the centerpiece of the shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary at St. James Cathedral for 22 years. The statue was vandalized July 8. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral “Mary with the Child Jesus” was the centerpiece of the shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary at St. James Cathedral for 22 years. The statue was vandalized July 8. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

SEATTLE – After a beloved statue of Mary was vandalized at St. James Cathedral, the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary has reopened with another statue temporarily in the place of honor.

On July 8, a mentally ill man — known to the cathedral staff — attacked the statue of “Mary with the Child Jesus” using a rock, according to Father Michael Ryan, the pastor of St. James. The attack broke the arm of the child Jesus and damaged the face of Mary, according to Father Ryan.

The statue, which has graced the shrine for 22 years, was shrouded and the shrine was closed until the new statue was installed. It comes from a former convent of the Sisters of the Holy Names.

The man responsible for the vandalism was arrested by Seattle police July 14 and released the next day; he provided no reason for the vandalism, but expressed remorse, according to Father Ryan.


The “Mother and Child” statue is in the place of honor in the cathedral’s Mary shrine while the original statue, damaged July 8 by a vandal, is restored. This statue is from a former convent of the Sisters of the Holy Names. Photo: Brian LeBlanc

Sometime after the incident at St. James, someone slashed a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Christ Our Hope Church in the Belltown neighborhood of downtown Seattle.

The July 8 incident at the cathedral was the third act of vandalism there in the past five months. In May, a white marble statue of “Mary, Seat of Wisdom,” in the Archbishop Murphy courtyard was damaged when a vandal threw a rock at it. The rock chipped Mary’s mantle, but the damage has already been repaired, Father Ryan said. In February, the “Great Cross,” a crucifix that stood on the floor of the sanctuary near the altar, was smashed into pieces. The cross, which dates from the 1950 remodel of the cathedral, is being restored, Father Ryan added.

Father Ryan said discussions about how to prevent future acts of vandalism are occurring. He emphasized the need for the cathedral to be open, but said there is a “tightrope we walk between being welcoming and making it safe for everyone” who wants to visit and pray.

“We try to find the living Jesus and serve him out there,” Father Ryan said. “We’re not going to give up or run away from our challenges.”

‘Souls are more important’

At Christ Our Hope Church, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe had hung on the wall since the parish was founded in 2010, according to Deacon Dennis Kelly, the parish’s new pastoral coordinator. He called the vandalism a “sad but rare instance.” The identity of the vandal is being investigated by the parish, he added.

Although the slashed canvas probably could be repaired, Deacon Kelly said, the parish community has decided to replace it with another image, but hasn’t chosen one yet. The community is also having a conversation about trying to safeguard against future incidents while making sure it doesn’t impact people’s access to the sanctuary, he added.

Despite the vandalism of the beloved Marian objects, Father Ryan and Deacon Kelly each emphasized that the souls of the people who caused the damage are what truly matters.

“The statue is sacred, holy and beloved, but people are more important than things,” Father Ryan said.

Rather than focusing on the loss of the painting at Christ Our Hope, “our Blessed Mother calls us to respond as a community with love, compassion and mercy” for the person who committed the vandalism, Deacon Kelly said. “We know only one thing can heal that pain, and that’s the love of Jesus Christ.”

St. James Cathedral has been dealing recently with an increase in inappropriate behavioral issues, Father Ryan said, noting “it would be good if people became more aware of how inadequate our societal response has been to mental illness.”

“That’s our challenge — do what Jesus did and reach out to those on the margins and care for them, love them and give them dignity,” he said.

The “Mary with the Child Jesus” statue at St. James Cathedral was shrouded after it was broken by a vandal July 8. The statue was removed July 16 for restoration work and another statue of Mary has replaced it. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral