HORNELL — For Susan Wake, the outdoor statues at St. Ann Church serve a vital community role.
“By having the art displayed, it speaks to people,” said Wake, who attends St. Ann with her husband, Larry. She explained that the statues are a spiritual aid for many people who pass by the church and pause for a brief prayer.
“It’s a walking community. It’s a very busy street,” she said of St. Ann’s location at the corner of Erie Avenue and Elm Street near downtown Hornell.
Beginning this past fall, an addition now adorns the church’s exterior. It’s a large statue of St. Joachim, father of the Virgin Mary — freshly refurbished by Wake — in its new location after many years at the former St. Joachim Church in Canisteo.
Wake said she received positive feedback and questions from curious onlookers, both Catholic and non-Catholic, during her two-month outdoor restoration project.
“I thought that people might not care for what I was doing, but that never occurred,” said Wake, who has refurbished and touched up nearly 50 pieces of St. Ann’s interior and exterior artwork over the past 15 years.
St. Joachim statue was transported five miles from Canisteo to Hornell
The St. Joachim statue represents the patron saint of a Catholic church founded in 1880 on West Main Street in Canisteo, five miles south of Hornell. In 2004, St. Joachim Church became part of the newly formed Our Lady of the Valley Parish in western Steuben County, joining with St. Ann, St. Mary in Rexville and the former St. Ignatius Loyola in Hornell.
However, St. Joachim closed in 2005. The church then housed Steuben County Rural Ministry until 2019, when Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston vacated the property in order to centralize ministry operations in Hornell.
Father Stanley Kacprzak, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley, explained in his Nov. 20, 2022, bulletin column that with the St. Joachim property not in use, he arranged for the statue to be relocated to St. Ann due to safety concerns. However, Father Kacprzak added, the statue was badly in need of painting and repairs.
Enter Wake, who had belonged to St. Joachim Church until its closing. The statue was transported from Canisteo to Hornell in the late summer of 2022, and Wake began refurbishing it in a parking lot across the street from St. Ann Church. Wake noted that members of the local Ancient Order of Hibernians then built a pedestal for the statue near the church exterior and brought it to that spot, where she finished working on it.
“It was extremely heavy. It took four men to carry it,” she said.
Steuben parishioner approached restoration project with care
Wake explained that the statue, which was originally all white, had become discolored and worn down due to water, wind and natural aging. She removed the old paint while carefully checking for damage.
“There was a lot hand sanding, and the statue has a lot of folds, so you have to look at it from all angles,” she said.
Another key consideration was the expression on St. Joachim’s face, which she augmented to appear forlorn. She explained that this would likely have been Joachim’s reaction to his rejection at the Temple, which — according to tradition — occurred after he sought to sacrifice two doves but was thought to be in God’s disfavor because he and his wife, Anne, were childless.
Wake added that she chose green — a color symbolizing hope — as the statue’s predominant color, because Joachim maintained hope after his rejection, withdrawing to the desert to fast and do penance. Tradition states that Joachim and Anne eventually received messages from an angel that they were to be parents. They named their child Mary, who became the mother of Jesus.
Hornell woman says her artwork is ‘like a calling’
Wake completed her work at the end of October, saying she received encouragement from parishioners as well as prayers that the nice fall weather would hold out — which it did.
“It kind of feels like a parish community project, because I got all these prayers and all this help,” she remarked.
Wake doesn’t have any formal art education, yet her talent has benefited not only St. Ann Church but also several people who have sought her out to spruce up their personal religious artifacts.
“It’s like a calling,” she said.
Wake said that through her artwork, she more fully appreciates the value of statues in enhancing people’s spirituality — even those who might not regularly attend church.
“They feel, I guess maybe, a gentle pull. You can’t hit people over the head with a hammer about religion. It’s a whisper,” Wake said, adding that spiritual growth occurs “in God’s time, not in our time.”Tags: Art, Faith in Action, Feast Days & Saints, Steuben County News