Robin McCormick visits St. Francis Xavier Parish at least six times a week. She's been part of the congregation at the Winooski church for more than 30 years.
"We know each other from worshipping together, but also through all the ups and downs we all face," McCormick said. "This church brings us together during the ups and downs so it's a close community."
Exactly one year ago that community was saddened by a senseless crime.
"There was that sense of really, you did this to the statue of Mary?" McCormick said.
The church's Virgin Mary statue was stolen, taken from the grotto in between the church and the Catholic school.
"It was an empty feeling inside," Monsignor Richard LaValley said.
LaValley clung to hope she'd be recovered. But as months passed with no sign of the statue, he figured she was gone for good and replaced the stolen statue with a new one to watch over school students. But he never stopped worrying.
"It has bothered me this whole year, wondering where is it? What happened to it? Who's got it? Why did they take it? The whole thing," LaValley said.
Then a year later-- somewhat of a miracle: a knock on the door at the church's rectory from Winooski Police.
"Never give up hope," Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen said.
The 5-foot tall, 250-pound statue of the Holy Mother was found! Mary hadn't traveled far, just a few blocks away. Police got a tip and one big clue-- a picture of the stolen statue posted on Facebook.
"Let's just say they made it a little easier for us than normal," McQueen said. "We identified the statue and where we believed it was. And we were able to recover it."
But it's severely damaged.
"Why would you do it?" LaValley asked.
Fingers broken, holes drilled in the hands, cracks, scratches and fake blood painted on her face and body.
"I just had this pit in my stomach when he told me it had been desecrated," LaValley said.
The church will now do what McCormick says it does best-- give back. The St. Francis Church plans to restore the Virgin Mary statue to donate it to another church or school.
"We were surprised," McCormick said. "We figured she was gone for good."
And McCormick says she and the church forgive the people who took her.
"As a mother of seven, I pray for them and hope their lives get better," she said, "and I'd also like to smack them upside the head and tell them not to do it again. Ha!"
Police say they're still gathering information and expect to charge people soon. At that time the suspects' names will be released.
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