Three statues stolen from Fatima shrine

Published 7:35 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Statues of three children, seen in this file photo, were reported stolen in January from the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, located on old U.S. 52 west of Ironton. (The Ironton Tribune | File photo)

KofC, Catholic community seek their return

Situated on Old U.S.  52, about seven miles west of Ironton, Our Lady of Fatima Shrine offers a peaceful and beautiful setting for the region’s Catholic community and others.

But, on Jan. 20, visitors noticed something was wrong there.

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Three of the hand-carved, marble statues, depicting three Portuguese children who reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima in 1917, were missing.

Daniel Hartwig, of the Knights of Columbus and a member of the Catholic community who has done restoration work on the shrine, said the visitors contacted those over the shrine to see if they had been removed, but it was quickly figured out that they were stolen.

Hartwig said there was no other damage to the shrine.

“They were just gone,” he said.

He said they had hoped to find the statues in the pond on the grounds and that he donned fisherman’s waders and searched, but all that was located was a cinder block.

He said they had no leads on the theft, as to whether it was the work of pranksters or someone looking to sell them.

The statues, depicting the children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, are about 20 inches tall and weigh about 20 pounds each.

“We’re just hoping somebody spots them,” he said, adding that they had people looking at area flea markets and antique stores in case someone tried to unload them. “Or maybe the people who took them will think, ‘This was a bad decision’ and bring them back.”

Hartwig said the statues were purchased in the 1960s, a decade after the shrine was built in 1952. He said replacing the statues could cost more than $2,000.

He said the shrine has been respected by the community and, in its seven decades, has not been the subject of vandalism, except for one time in the 1960s, when the same three statues were taken.

In that case, he said they were found weeks later on the bank of the Ohio River and reinstalled.

Our Lady of Fatima Shrine was started by Father Phillips, pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, after he visited the Fatima Shrine in Portugal. It was built on land donated by attorney Jim Riley and his wife, Jenny. It was blessed by Phillips in 1952 and by Bishop John King Mussio in 1962.

According to church tradition, the children said Mary appeared to them for six consecutive months, each time on the 13th, asking them to say the rosary every day to bring peace to the world, then mired in World War I, and to offer up prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.  The reported apparitions continued until Oct. 13, 1917, which became known as “the Miracle of the Sun,” in which thousands said they saw the sun “dance in the sky.”

A mass took place at the Ironton shrine in 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of Fatima.

Hartwig said anyone who has information on the statues is urged to call the Ironton Catholic churches at 740-532-0712 or the Lawrence County Sheriff at 740-532-3525.