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The late Father Fred Barnett never let a favor from heaven go to waste.
“Pray for a miracle, and you get one,” the longtime pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Laurie was fond of saying.
Witness the limestone sculpture staring out from the wedge-shaped courtyard between St. Patrick Church and the rectory.
Parishioners were awaiting delivery of their patron saint’s larger-than-life likeness as the current St. Patrick Church was nearing completion in 1980.
Renowned Sculptor Arthur J. Breen of Dublin had spent months transforming a block of his homeland’s bedrock into the saint’s stoic visage — shamrock, crosier and subdued snake included.
Mr. Breen completed the artwork in January of that year, crated it and sent it on its way.
Longtime Laurie parishioner Donald Drake recently called around to construct a narrative of what happened next.
“It got lost!” he said of the statue. “No one knew where it was. They didn’t have online tracking back then.”
Fellow parishioners told Mr. Drake that the statue was scheduled to arrive three weeks before St. Patrick’s Day.
“It was to be dedicated in conjunction with our annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” he stated. “But the days kept passing, and there was no statue.”
Prayers and sighs ascended the highest mountains while work on the church progressed.
Fr. Barnett, who retired as pastor in 2006 and died five years later, often reminisced about the day the statue finally arrived out of the blue.
One parishioner told Mr. Drake about there being a big commotion that day, but not remembering what it was for.
He asked if she knew anyone else who might remember.
“None who are alive,” she told him.
Longtime parish employee Rose Vanderbeck heard Fr. Barnett repeat the story many times over the decades.
“He said he and a bunch of men from Prison Industries were in the church installing the pews when a big truck pulled in at high noon on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, with the statue from Ireland,” she recalled.
The statue had been shipped to at least three states enroute to its new home.
“Father often marveled that St. Patrick arrived on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Mrs. Vanderbeck.
Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe of Jefferson City, now deceased, blessed the statue when he dedicated the church on Memorial Day of that year.
A time capsule containing a list of parishioners and guests at the dedication was buried in front of the statue.
A copper plaque on the statue’s base tells the story. The plaque’s presence points to Fr. Barnett’s penchant for recognizing God at work in mysterious ways.
“There is absolutely nothing God can’t do,” the priest would say, “except what you won’t let him do.”
Mr. Breen, the sculptor, died in 1989.
A relative recently posted grainy photos on Reddit from a faded album of the artist’s nearly five-decade career.
One of the photos is of Mr. Breen standing next to a work in progress that appears to be the statue in Laurie.
“His work is in Ireland, in what looks like various churches and cemeteries,” the relative stated.
And also in the heart of Morgan County, where it arrived 43 years ago in God’s good time.