With a little help from some Citadel engineering students, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Charleston has replaced a statue of Jesus Christ that a vandal decapitated in 2014.
While the initial image of the damaged statue was disturbing, the Rev. Dennis Willey said his parishioners waited patiently for a year and a half as church leaders negotiated with insurance companies and statue makers.
The original concrete statue was a gift from Our Lady of Good Counsel on Folly Beach. According to Willey, parishioners there thought the statue of Jesus with a visible Sacred Heart — symbolic of his love for mankind — ought to be displayed at a church named after the Sacred Heart.
In June 2014, Charleston police arrested a man shortly after two Jesus statues on the property had their heads knocked off. The man, who reportedly still had a sledgehammer in his backpack, told officers he had destroyed the statues “because the Second or First Commandment states to not make an image of a male or female to be on display to the public.”
Cadets in The Citadel’s American Society of Civil Engineers chapter took an interest in renovations at the historic church around the time of the statue incident, but the scope of their work went far beyond the front lawn.
“We want them to do a service project, but also there’s just so much learning from working on a real world project versus just some theoretical problem in class,” said Citadel Professor Timothy Mays. “(The cadets) considered the church as their client. They would tell us what they thought their needs were.”
About 122 civil engineering students in all participated in the project. They conducted a full inspection of the 1939 building. They found lead paint throughout the historic rectory, as well as some structural problems, including an unbraced chimney that could be damaged in the event of an earthquake.
Working with professional engineers, the students provided the church with a total renovation cost estimate of about $300,000. They also built a temporary cover for the prominent Sacred Heart statue, which faces King Street, and reached out to Citadel alumni to raise funds to meet the $1,000 insurance deductibles for the two statue replacements.
Finally, on a rainy day in early February, workers took away the old concrete statue and replaced it with a new fiberglass resin one — a slightly different design this time, with Christ holding a globe in one hand. The other statue, which is marble and features Christ standing beside a child, has taken longer for the church to find a satisfactory replacement.
The church and the cadets had raised about $150,000 to conduct repairs on the rest of the church, but Willey said the severe floods that hit Charleston in October changed their priorities. Now the most urgent need is to replace the electrical panels that were damaged as 9 feet of water inundated the basement, he said. While the task is daunting, Willey said the cadets’ work has been a great help.
“The architect suggested we need to do an engineering study, and I said, ‘That’s already been done,’ ” Willey said.
Donations to help with the restoration can be made at Sacred Heart’s website or by mail at 888 King St., Charleston, SC 29412.
Reach Paul Bowers at 843- 937-5546.