An elegant marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary graces the entrance to St. Augustine School in Elkridge, moved there by alumni of the shuttered Cardinal Gibbons School. The sculpted image of a veiled young woman stands beneath a large white cross and above a memorial plaque.
When Charlotte "Sis" Slavotinek learned that the archdiocese was closing the all-boys Catholic high school two years ago, she insisted that the statue, dedicated to her son Michael, his two classmates and their teacher who died in a 1968 plane crash, be relocated.
"I am the last surviving parent of the three boys, who all went here to St. Augustine School," she said. "I wrote to the bishop and asked that they give the statue to our parish. The boys were raised here and were active here."
Her son ran track, excelled in math and found many friendships at Gibbons. When Brother Bernard Borchers started a flying club in 1967, he joined along with Paul Deminis and Mark S. Mitchell, classmates since first grade at St. Augustine.
"He loved to fly," Slavotinek said of the older of her two sons. "I know it would have been part of his life."
The three friends had all qualified to do solo flights by spring of their senior year, but never had the chance. Two weeks before graduation, they perished when their single-engine plane crashed near South Mountain in Frederick County.
"The school that he loved didn't ask a thing of the parents," Slavotinek said. "They erected the statue and put up the marker for our sons."
The age and history of the statue are unknown. After the tragedy, Gibbons' principal relocated it from a monastery that had closed in upstate New York and had it dedicated to "four members of the Cardinal Gibbons family who died together." Surrounded by a stone grotto, it provided a place for quiet reflection.
The archdiocese, which has sold the school property to St. Agnes Hospital, agreed to the move. Archbishop William Lori is scheduled to rededicate the statue after the 10:45 a.m. Mass today.
The alumni found the elementary school an appropriate setting for a revered artifact and helped move it.
"This is a fitting place," said John Dillow. "The grotto was always a sacred place, a place of respect at Gibbons. We could not be happier with its new home that honors our brothers in Christ."
Wayne McDowell, who graduated a year before Michael Slavotinek, moved the 400-pound marble that stands five feet tall. The statue was cleaned and the bronze plaque was refurbished before the statue was placed on a new brick pedestal.
"At first we thought of putting it atop the hill in front of the rectory," said the Rev. John Williamson, pastor at St. Augustine. "But you really can see it better here at the school."
A gray-haired man paused by it after Mass one recent Sunday. He spotted Slavotinek and thanked her for her persistence.
"I didn't realize until later that he went to school with Michael," she said. "I still think of those boys as 17."
At 81, Slavotinek still attends Mass regularly at the parish and will be there for the blessing. All these years later, she still hesitates to read the plaque.
"It's been 44 years, but it is like it was yesterday," she said.