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Craftsman's 'good deed' restores statue of Jesus at Carlow University

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, 4:42 p.m.
The Rev. Adam Verona, university chaplain at Carlow University, blesses the restored statue of Jesus on Carlow's campus in Oakland on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The hands of the statue were broken off earlier in the year by vandals.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Adam Verona, university chaplain at Carlow University, blesses the restored statue of Jesus on Carlow's campus in Oakland on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The hands of the statue were broken off earlier in the year by vandals.
A tarp is dropped to reveal the restored statue of Jesus at Carlow University in Oakland, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The hands of the statue were broken off earlier in the year by vandals.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A tarp is dropped to reveal the restored statue of Jesus at Carlow University in Oakland, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The hands of the statue were broken off earlier in the year by vandals.
Carlow University officials disovered in late July that a vandal had broken the hands off a statue of Jesus on campus, shown here on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Officials still have not identified any suspects, but on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, they celebrated the restoration of the statue and its reconstructed hands, completed free of charge by the Mariani and Richards firm in Pittsburgh's South Hills.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Carlow University officials disovered in late July that a vandal had broken the hands off a statue of Jesus on campus, shown here on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Officials still have not identified any suspects, but on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, they celebrated the restoration of the statue and its reconstructed hands, completed free of charge by the Mariani and Richards firm in Pittsburgh's South Hills.

Reports that a vandal had broken the hands off a statue of Jesus at Carlow University didn't sit well with Ron Freeborough.

“That's troublesome,” Freeborough, 74, of Mt. Lebanon recalls saying to his wife, Andrea, when he learned about the damage at the Catholic school's campus in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood in late July. “Your mother went to school there.”

Then the Freeboroughs — who happen to run a restoration company — had an idea: Why not volunteer to fix the statue for free?

The Catholic couple figured they could do a good deed while honoring a family member's alma mater.

Andrea Mariana Freeborough, 73, posted the proposal to Carlow's Facebook page , offering the services of the construction and historic preservation firm she co-owns, Mariani & Richards in Pittsburgh's South Hills.

“It was just awesome that they made that offer,” Carlow spokesman Drew Wilson said. “We had discovered that it was vandalized, but we hadn't even taken steps to try to figure out what is the next step.”

Three months of donated work later, the Freeboroughs joined college officials to unveil a fully restored Jesus statue during a brief ceremony at the university on Thursday.

The statue, made mostly of carrara marble, portrays Jesus raising his arms toward the sky near Fifth Avenue and Robinson Street and next to St. Agnes Center, a former Catholic church.

“It's absolutely wonderful,” Wilson said. “I can't tell those hands weren't part of the original.”

At market value, the restoration would've cost about $20,000, Ron Freeborough said.

University officials discovered the statue had been vandalized on July 19. They said it must have happened after early May, when the campus emptied for summer break.

Security cameras did not capture the incident.

The original hands were not recovered — which made the restoration more challenging.

“There were no hands to duplicate. There was nothing to go by other than some old photographs,” said Ron Freeborough, board chairman for Mariani and Richards, which previously has done preservation work for Carlow. “You make your best assumptions as to the proportions, length, width, where the fingers are.”

Campus police received some tips about possible suspects over the summer, but they do not have “enough evidence to get a search warrant or arrest warrant or anything like that,” Wilson said.

“Maybe this will encourage someone else to come forward,” Wilson said.

In the meantime, the university has urged the public not to use the event to make hate-filled comments about whoever was responsible for the damage.

The school posted a Facebook post that said while officials were upset by the vandalism, “Carlow University prefers to take its response from the one who taught us to ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.'”

Ron Freeborough said he's happy the incident provided an unexpected opportunity to pay tribute to his wife's mother, Josephine Carrado Mariani, who attended the campus with the class of 1938, when the school was called Mount Mercy College.

As rain poured down during Thursday's ceremony, Ron Freeborough spotted his wife shedding a few tears.

“It was special, one of those moments,” he said. “It was just a nice thing and everybody was so appreciative.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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