“Pieta” statue in Marshall evokes remembrance, sacrifice, love


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Some people remember it from the old St. Peter Church.

It was painted in detailed color and given by the Ordway Family while they were grieving the death of their son in World War I.

The following is an article published in the local newspaper in 1917:

“Funeral at 9 a.m. from St. Peter’s Catholic Church — The remains of the late Frederick E. Ordway came in from France Sunday afternoon at 4:20 on the Missouri Pacific, accompanied by an escort.

“The remains were taken to Parish M. Walker’s undertaking parlors, where they remained until Monday when they were taken to the home of the mother, Mrs. Harry Ordway on West Arrow.

“A large crowd was at the depot to meet the remains.

“The Eighty-ninth Division was around Stenay, (France).

“The Neuse River divides the town. The Germans were holding the north part of the town and the Americans were in possession of the south part.

“It was the ninth day of November. It was in the Argonne offensive.

“The Germans were being pushed back and the Americans were advancing. The Americans were crossing the Neuse.

“The night of Nov. 10, 1918, sometime after midnight, an American soldier went down to the banks of the river to cross.

“He wore the chevrons of a sergeant. With him was a part of his company.

“Machine gun bullets were splattering the mud from the river bank on the soldiers as they advanced to the pontoon bridges. Bursting shrapnel filled the air.

 “Just as this sergeant started across the stream, a shrapnel shell burst right above him.

“Death was instantaneous.

“Tenderly, friends picked up the lifeless body.

“That sergeant was Frederick E. Ordway, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Ordway.

“He was in Company K of the 356th Infantry.

“When he was killed, he was 23 years old. Practically all his life had been spent around Marshall.

“The funeral service will be conducted at St. Peter’s Catholic Church at 9 o’clock Tuesday morning, conducted by Rev. Francis O’Neill, and the remains will be laid to rest in Ridge Park Cemetery.

“The pallbearers will be members of his company and an escort from the American Legion.”


When Sgt. Ordway’s family donated the “Pieta,” which depicts Mary holding her Son’s lifeless body after it was taken down from the cross, the statue was painted in colorful detail.

A black-and-white photo taken in 1932 is the only record of the statue with its original colors.

As time and mishaps happened through the years, the statue got chipped and damaged.

It was eventually painted in a solid white to resemble Michelangelo’s marble “Pieta” in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

At some point, the Marshall “Pieta” was moved to St. Peter School. Some former students, now adults in their 50s and 60s, remember passing it daily in the halls back in the 1970s and  ’80s.

One of the priests had the statue painted with glossy white outdoor paint and set it in the elements sometime after the present St. Peter Church was built in 1979.

The statue, intended to be kept inside, suffered much damage and was almost ruined.

It eventually found its way to a corner of the rectory garage, where it sat for many years, with hand-sized pieces of paint flaking off.

Few knew it still existed.

In July 2011, the parish secretary got the idea to “fix the statue” while Father Kevin Gormley, who was pastor, was gone to his native Ireland for a month of vacation. (It is proven that it is easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission sometimes).

She enlisted the help of a good friend, and they proceeded to strip away six or seven layers of paint, one tiny chip at a time.

Needless to say, it took more than that month!

Father eventually asked for the “mess” be moved out of his garage, and the “mess” was moved into the old secretary’s garage.

Over time, the project became a deep labor of love.

The hard, glossy outside paint gave way to other white coats of paint and repair putty.

Through much time and effort, some of the original coats of paint were carefully uncovered, and glimpses of colors hidden for decades began to peek through.

As the paint was stripped off Jesus’s chest, you could almost see him breathe!

As his hands were cleaned, you could almost feel him hold your hand.

The detail of the image was breathtaking as hints of the original colors were revealed, chip by chip.

It was holy, rewarding work. It became a prayer.

The cleaning process was completed in the fall of 2012.

Then came the hard decision of whether to have the beautiful, detailed statue painted with color or leave it white.

For sure, the details of the piece needed to be carefully preserved so as not to lose the poignant message of this beautiful work of art.

It was decided to send it to a professional artist for restoration.

A parishioner donated the money to have the statue repainted to its original colors.

The statue was taken to the Jefferson City area residence of Barb Niekamp, whose family had helped renovate the current St. Peter Church in Marshall.

Well over a century after World War I ended and the “Pieta” statue was donated in Sgt. Ordway’s memory, the restored image has a permanent home in the church.

It serves as a year-round reminder of Jesus’s supreme sacrifice on Calvary, as well as of the men and women who fought and died so that others could live and worship freely.

The statue is moved each year to the church vestibule during Holy Week, to remind people as they arrive and leave of the price our Loving Lord paid for their souls.

“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath,” (Romans 5:8-9).

Mrs. Whitney is a member of St. Peter Parish in Marshall. A version of this article was published in that parish’s bulletin.