Students and staff of St. Joseph Catholic High School celebrate the blessing of two life-sized statues of Mary and Joseph by their chaplain, Father Dean Dowle, on May 29, 2018. The sculptures had previously stood outside the Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in west Edmonton. The monastery closed in 2012 after more than 90 years. Photos by Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

Historic figures of Mary and Joseph now grace Edmonton high school

Two life-sized statues of Mary and Joseph that stood outside an Edmonton monastery for more than 90 years are now welcoming visitors to St. Joseph Catholic High School.

Shaun RomanoLincoln Ho, Grandin Media

“It’s really great to see the statues here. It just gives me hope and reminds me to always be faithful to God and that whatever problems I have, there’s a God who can always help me,” said Shaun Romano, a Grade 12 student who was among more than 30 students and staff at the May 29th ceremony.

It’s a salvage and restoration project that relied exclusively on volunteers, including Brad Koshka, a principal at St. Joe’s.

“Everything that our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph stand for is really what lives within this school, and to have these statues on site completes the picture,” Koshka said.

“It’s really a sense of peace when you walk up to this building to know that you’re walking into a faith-based experience that welcomes everyone.”

Each of the concrete statues is more than a hundred years old, and originally belonged to Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in west Edmonton. The monastery closed in 2012 after more than 90 years.

The statues remained there until 2017, when the land was sold. A new home had to be found, or the statues would be demolished.

That’s when the Edmonton Archdiocese offered to donate the statues to St. Joseph’s, said Father Dean Dowle, the district chaplain for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

Father Dean Dowle, Edmonton Catholic Schools chaplain, and Brad Koshka, a principal at St. Joe’s High School, with the 2,700 pound statue of Mary in front of the school. A 3,600 pound statue of Joseph was also donated and blessed.Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

Dowle said blessing the statues at the school serves as a strong reminder of the relationship that students and teachers have with God.

“If they can respect something that represents God, then it serves as a reminder that they can respect one another, who were also made in the image of God,” he said.

Sister Consolata, a former resident of the monastery, said she’s pleased with the move.

However, getting the statues to the school wasn’t easy. Each of the concrete figures was pinned to the ground by concrete and rebar. The statue of Mary weighs approximately 2,700 pounds and the statue of Joseph more than 3,600 pounds.

Hugh MacDonaldLincoln Ho, Grandin Media

Koshka said “it was a lot of work to be able to get them out here, to dig them out of where they were and to have them transported and to convince people to use their equipment, but it’s been a blessing.”

At first, Koshka and Hugh MacDonald — another principal at St. Joseph’s — spent weekends trying to dig the statues out of the ground by hand before they decided to rent a backhoe, their only expense.

“It wasn’t as quick a job as we thought, but it was well worth it in every way, shape and form,” said MacDonald. “And then watching Brad try to learn how to use it was quite amusing!”

Koshka said his best friend helped lift and move the statues with a small crane.

“I said, ‘Listen, I know you run a commercial contracting company, is there any way that you can help us out? And by the way, we need to do it for free!’” said Koshka.

The statues were placed at their new home in October 2017 and repainted, but school staff weren’t able to complete the landscaping — surrounding each statue with mulch and stones — before winter.

The school also plans to add benches and fences around the statues.

“I think it’s good that they’re preserved, because even though I’m not Catholic, I like to be exposed to different religions,” said Grade 11 student Shyia Gray. “I’m open to that sort of thing.”

Shyia GrayLincoln Ho, Grandin Media

MacDonald, who retired in May, and said it was important for him to see the project to completion.

“You don’t have that many opportunities in your life to provide a resource to a school or institution that follows the same faith lines as you do.”

School staff feared that the statues might be vandalized. Instead, a rosary was hung on the statue of Mary and a mat was placed in front of her for those who wanted to pray.

“I think some of our evening staff actually use that for evening prayer, before they come back for custodial work,” Koshka said. “We didn’t expect that there would be the number of people that would come by and actually pray in front of Mary.”

As for the students, MacDonald said they’ve “always been nothing but respectful.”

Statues being moved by crane from the Sisters of the Precious Blood Monastery. Photo courtesy Brad Koshka.