Vandals break statues and hearts at small Glouco church

The head of one of the decapitated statues at the Roman Catholic church in Franklin Township.
The head of one of the decapitated statues at the Roman Catholic church in Franklin Township.
Posted: September 21, 2013

FRANKLIN TWP. Twenty-five years ago, Kathie Ramos married her husband at St. Mary's, a small, decades-old redbrick church resembling a schoolhouse. The couple's five children were baptized there.

"It's a quaint little church, but it has a lot of spirituality," said Ramos, a stay-at-home mother.

On Thursday, she and other parishioners were saddened to discover that several stone statues were vandalized at the small Franklin Township church. Priests here have ministered to generations, including at least one member whose ancestors from Italy helped erect the building.

A figure of Our Lady of Fatima was found decapitated on the rectory grounds; her praying hands were broken off and discovered a few feet away from the rest of the statue. Figures of children at the Lady of Fatima scene also were either decapitated or broken in half.

A piece of the Immaculate Heart of Mary's head was knocked off, while the entire head of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue was severed.

The vandalism dismayed parishioners of all ages Thursday: A 14-year-old former altar server, who rode his bike over, appeared visibly upset. A 59-year-old grandmother, who owns a pizzeria in town, told her grandson she had "a sad story" for him before showing him the damage.

"Someone was intentionally being malicious. Whoever did this was striking at the symbols of faith," said Peter Feuerherd, a spokesman for the Diocese of Camden, which recently merged St. Mary's with churches in nearby Newfield and Buena.

Maria Fricano, the pizzeria owner, a church member of 23 years, wondered if the culprit was "somebody who doesn't like our faith, maybe." She wasn't sure. Police weren't either.

Franklin Township police are investigating the incident as criminal mischief, but authorities are not ruling out a bias crime, said Police Chief Michael R. Rock.

Rock said the incident was reported around 8 a.m. Parishioners said they suspect the vandalism happened between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., during the time parishioners were holding a weekly 24-hour vigil inside the church.

Rock said there have been no arrests and no suspects have been identified.

Parishioners said it is the first time they recalled that the church, in the town's Malaga section, has been vandalized. They breathed a sigh of relief that a rosary garden was untouched.

"There is no ill will to the person or persons. Come forward. Make retribution. They will have a better life," said Ramos, who brought her 10-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter with her to the church Thursday afternoon.

Ramos said church members themselves had painted the building and refurbished its hardwood floors.

In 2011, the Camden Diocese merged St. Mary's with other parishes to create Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Newfield. But St. Mary's still holds Mass three days a week that draws a crowd.

"Everybody is different here, but it doesn't matter who you are. You're accepted," she said.

She lifted Our Lady of Fatima's head and kissed it, then put it at the broken statue's feet. Authorities urge anyone with information that would help solve the vandalism to contact the Franklin Township police at 856-694-1415.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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