Vandals smashed a sign, a statue, and several windshields of cars parked under a canopy at the National Shrine of St. Anthony late Tuesday evening.
No one at the Mt. Airy (OH) church, friary, and, office complex at the top of a hill off Colerain Avenue knew about the damage until police, notified by a driver who saw the smashed sign at the street entrance to the grounds, came to investigate.
Toni Cashnelli, spokesperson for the friars, said the vandalism took place between 9 and 9:30 pm. “Police are inclined to think it was someone who just felt like inflicting some damage,” she says, “because nothing appeared to have been stolen. Possibly someone high on drugs or something else.”
The most difficult repair, she says, will be the marble statue of St. Francis at the entrance to the chapel. The saint’s head is cracked and his arms were knocked off, as was the head of a bird sitting on his shoulder.
“Brother Gene Meyer, the Guardian, knows a local person or firm who can do the work,” she says.
The National Shrine of St. Anthony was built in 1888, on a former country estate donated to the friars to establish a monastery in Cincinnati. The chapel on the “Holy Hill” was dedicated by Archbishop Henry Elder in 1889, and until 1967 young men lived there during their novitiate before joining the Franciscans. The chapel, originally designed in an ornate style with many side altars, was redesigned in a spare style in 1978. Its main features are a San Damiano cross, a distinctive set of wooden statues, and the Shrine, which pilgrims visit from around the country.
Nothing inside the chapel was damaged, and Cashnelli says the vandalism appears to have been random. The vandal or vandals managed as much damage has they did, she said, because Tuesday was a rare night when fewer people than usual were on the grounds.
“A number of friars were away at a meeting, including Br. Gene, and the Postulants are out of town with the formators,” she said. “Nobody there heard what was going on. Fr. Frank Geers, who has been there 16 years, says he’s never seen vandalism of this sort before.”