Melissa Veselovsky believes Christ put her life back together when she was received into the Roman Catholic Church 10 years ago.
For the past month, she literally put “Christ” back together in a delicate labor of love for her parish. Fighting a deadline, she pieced together a statue of Christ broken during shipment from Europe and made it whole again just in time for Good Friday services.
Seems the Rev. Steve Kunkel, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Mesa, had traveled last August to Poland on a choir tour. There, he purchased a 4-foot-2-inch resin statue of Christ for his church and arranged for it to be shipped to Arizona for Holy Week. But when it arrived through customs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, it was broken in half with other parts shattered. The statue portrays Christ’s body, lying on his right side, draped with a white sheet up to his waist, as it may have been after being taken down from the cross.
Plans called for the parish’s Knights of Columbus to carry the Christ statue in a procession through the church on Good Friday. It would then be placed into a newly built “tomb” inside the sanctuary, with parishioners carrying flowers and placing them outside the tomb. Then on Easter, the tomb would reveal the body was gone and Jesus had been resurrected.
But all that was in jeopardy in late February when the simple cardboard carton from Poland was peeled open, revealing a shattered Jesus.
“I opened it, and it was like, ‘Oh, shoot,’ ” Kunkel said. “So, I was thinking maybe we’ll have a broken statue to kind of show the brokenness of Christ. He was scourged, and I wouldn’t be in one piece if I was flogged by the Romans, either.”
Stepping forward in the tradition of someone trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again was Veselovsky, a parish member and ironically the director of the diocese’s Healing Through the Body of Christ Cancer Ministry. A design major while she attended the University of California at Davis, Veselovsky had the skills and the zeal to fix the statue.
First she found Kunkel completely unruffled by the fate of the statue. “He is the eternal optimist — everything is possible with him,” she said. “It’s that phrase, ‘All things are possible with God,’ and I think that is the way he lives his life. He looks at this crumbled statue and says, ‘Oh, you can glue it.’ ”
At the time, Veselovsky’s aunt, Cathy Veals, and Laurie Palazzolo were constructing “the wonderful tomb inside the church,” when Kunkel showed them the statue and requested they fix it. The women, who had their hands full with the tomb and families to look after, examined the statue and abandoned any thought of repairing it themselves. Veals called Veselovsky to explain the problem. “I said I have some art design background, I could try it,” Veselovsky said. A month ago, she took the statue to her northeast Mesa home.
When she saw the damage, Veselovsky decided to make some calls to see about buying a replacement. One statue “that looks very similar to it” was priced at $3,000, but Kunkel told her it “doesn’t have to be just like that.” Another statue found on the Internet cost $400. Veselovsky thought her family could buy it and the problem would be solved. “But we couldn’t get it in time for Good Friday,” she said.
So Veselovsky turned her attention to repairing the statue Kunkel had bought for about $130 in Poland while on tour with the choir of his former parish, Church of the Resurrection in Tempe. It was their Polish-born choir director, Miroslawa Oginska, who recommended the Good Friday procession rite, commonly done in Poland, and pointed Kunkel to where he could obtain a statue. Their tour guide arranged for the statue’s shipment. It was wrapped only in a blanket, light bubble wrap and a layer of cardboard inside a cardboard box. “Fragile,” in Polish, was hand-printed several times on the outside.
So Veselovsky went to work determining what pieces could be reused, and what had to be reconstructed.
In a flurry of e-mails she was advised on glues and putties. “If I hadn’t known about the putty (from a woman in Chandler), this couldn’t have been done,” she said. “I had to sculpt and make pieces where there weren’t any,” she said. Some areas were so completely shattered they had to be replaced with putty.
Once it was reconstructed and seams were sanded, Veselovsky painted the statue. “I had to redo the flesh, which means I had to paint over the red that had been put on the scars of the wounds of Jesus,” she said. “Now I have this Jesus with scars and no blood. It is a very spiritual thing to have to put the blood in Jesus’ wounds. That comes last.”
As Veselovsky concentrated on her work, her daughters, Kate, 5, and Lauren, 2, earnestly wanted to help, especially because the epoxy, or putty, looked like clay. “They could see what I was doing, and they wanted to do it,” she said. “The neighbors must think I’m a nut. They probably heard me yelling, ‘Stay away from Jesus! Don’t touch Jesus!’ ”
All told, the project took about 60 hours, about a quarter of that time getting materials and advice.
“I didn’t know she was so talented at restoring stuff like that,” Kunkel said.
For Veselovsky, the project turned out to be a personal venture.
“First of all, it was Lent, and in Lent, we examine our own brokenness, and we look forward to Easter and the Resurrection, and how Jesus makes us whole and makes the church whole.”
Beyond that, she said, “this is the 10th anniversary of my baptism. Ten years ago, Jesus put my life back together. It is a labor of love putting this (statue) back together.” The project got bigger for her as it unfolded.
She thought back more than a decade to when “my moral compass was off, and I wasn’t making the best choices in my life,” she said. “I was off riding my motorcycle. It was after I graduated from college, and I was sort of feeling my oats and dating people I shouldn’t have dated and just not finding a healthy center.” Then came becoming a Catholic and “being reined back in and developing a relationship with God,” she said. “I guess finding my own spirituality really brought me back to where I needed to be.”
“Wow, maybe God, putting me back together, was a bigger project than I thought.”