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Bennington police continue investigation of Madonna of the Street statue theft

NORTH BENNINGTON—Bennington Police continue to investigate the theft of a five-foot statue of the Blessed Virgin from Mary’s Garden at St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
 
The statue was discovered missing Aug. 31 and found the same day on the bank of the Walloomsac River; it is unclear when it was taken.
 
“I was surprised when I received the call while eating dinner [that] evening and was asked, ‘Where is Mary?’ I said, ‘Mary who?,’” said Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman, administrator of St. John the Baptist Church and Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington.  Parishioner “Henry [Simpatico] said, ‘the statue of Mary in the garden.’ I said, ‘Call the police.’”
 
Known as the Madonna della Strada (Madonna of the Street), the statue was mounted on a fiberglass base, which was bonded to a concrete pad that was ripped off when the vandals removed it.
 
There were also a number of gouges on the body of the statue.
 
A local newspaper photographer saw the statue near the river and filed photos she took of it and solved the mystery of from where it had been taken.
 
The Demetz Studio in Italy has been contacted for specific information regarding the reconstruction of the base.
 
Father Wiseman and parishioners hope to have the statue back in place in time for a Marian service in October to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Mary’s Garden.
 
“I think the one(s) who took it wanted us to find it,” Father Wiseman said. “I would like to know why they took it.”
 
Call Corporal David Faden at the Bennington Police Department at 802-442-1030 with any information regarding the theft.
 
 
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Former Holy Cross superior general now ministering in Bennington, North Bennington parishes

Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary admits he did not like school when he was a child. It seemed everything was about memorization, and he just was not good at it.
           
But when he was in a sophomore English class as a seminarian at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., his teacher called on him for an answer even though he had not raised his hand. The teacher praised his student for his comments on the meaning of something they had read.
           
“From then on, I was on the Dean’s List,” said Father Cleary, now parochial vicar at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
           
His current assignment has brought him full circle to this southern Vermont community where he spent a year of his seminary training in the Holy Cross order’s novitiate, once located in Bennington. Between stops here, he has been a parochial vicar, inner city pastor, novice director, provincial of the Eastern Province, Rome-based superior general of the worldwide order for priests and brothers and chaplain for the Monastic Family of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno.
           
He moved to North Bennington to begin his current ministry in August.
           
“I love parish ministry in general,” said the 70-year-old priest who grew up in Queens, N.Y. He appreciates being able to share all of life with people, from the good times to the bad, from celebrations to mourning. “You get to know your parishioners. They have the strength of humanity. It all harkens back to that English class. What is literature but an expression of humanity’s joys and struggles?”
           
He feels privileged to be a priest. “People open up their heart to you. You gain so much strength from their heroic virtue lived every day,” he added.
           
The son of a New York City police officer and a stay-at-home mother, Father Clear has a single younger brother and an older sister who has five children and 16 grandchildren.
           
He always wanted to be a priest. “It was always in me,” he said during an interview at the Bennington parish center. “I can’t remember wanting to be anything else.”
           
His family life revolved around Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bayside where he became an altar boy shortly after his First Communion. He attended the parish school through eighth grade then walked a mile to attend Holy Cross High School in Flushing.
           
He had thought about becoming a diocesan priest in New York, but in high school one of the Holy Cross brothers suggested he consider the Congregation of Holy Cross.
           
He was ordained in 1973 at Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, Mass.
           
Father Cleary – who grew up in a family in which education was emphasized – has earned five degrees: a bachelor’s degree in English from Stonehill College; a master’s in theology from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., a master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola University in Chicago; and a master’s and doctorate in formative spirituality from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
           
For him, education is a way to help one think and reflect on life.
           
When he was in the novitiate in Bennington, one of the changes that came about after Vatican II was that the seminarians did not have to earn their undergraduate degree in philosophy. So he and three other members of his class of 35 seminarians decided to major in English. “I thought it would be easier,” he recalled with a smile.
           
So with a nod to their future English degree, the four seminarians snuck out of their rooms one night to sleep on the grave of poet Robert Frost in Old Bennington. “We thought we’d do better in English with him than without him,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
           
A former marathon runner, Father Cleary now enjoys walking and hiking, and besides his sacramental, Catholic school and visitation ministries, he is working with parents and sponsors of confirmation students in both parishes.
           
Fluent in Spanish thanks to a Maryknoll language school in Bolivia with experience ministering to migrant workers, he would like to resume that type of work if there is a need for it in southern Vermont. 
 
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Walk-Ins Welcome

North Bennington clinic cares for community body and soul

Bea Talbot brought a Crock-Pot filled with American chop suey; Sherry Monte provided the sliced bread, and Lorraine Breen contributed a plate of brownies.

They are members of the Social Concerns Committee at St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, and they provided the meal for people who came to the free clinic, a program of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, Inc., at First Baptist Church.

The clinic at the Bennington church is open from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays; walk-ins are seen as time permits, but appointments are encouraged. The clinic also has appointment hours on Monday mornings.

While volunteer doctors and nurses see patients and volunteers help clients enroll in health insurance plans, simple meals are provided in the reception area; St. John the Baptist parishioners provide the food once every other month, and Talbot gets there early to set up the meal, enough for about 10 people.

She likes to make it simple: soup, chili or her favorite, American chop suey. "People come here to be seen [by the doctors and nurses], and often they don't eat. Some don't even see a doctor" but need the meal, said Talbot who also volunteers as a greeter at the clinic once a month.

When the free clinic opened in 2009, people brought in food for the staff. That celebratory spirit of bringing food continued in the second week; a mother waiting to see a doctor asked if her children could have some of the salad because they had not eaten.

And so began the free meal at the free clinic.

Some of those who partake of the free meal have expressed surprise that it is available; often they comment on how tasty it is.

St. John the Baptist parishioners have been involved in the meal for seven years. Other individuals and faith communities provide meals too.

Because the clinic serves people of low or moderate income, food is an important issue there, said Sue Andrews, executive director of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services. "We try to nurture a close working relationship with local faith communities by involving them in social justice issues," she said.

In addition to the medical services, the agency provides food and fuel assistance, a food pantry and health insurance navigation services.

It's all part of what Andrews calls "radical hospitality."

Deacon David O'Brien, a member of the St. John the Baptist Social Concerns Committee, helped connect the parishes to the work of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services. "This meal is one of the things that goes on day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year" within the interfaith community, he said.

"The beauty of it for me is the interfaith group is looking at the needs of the community," said Sherry Monte, chair of the social concerns committee. "We are all working together and responding to the needs of the community."

In addition, working together enables members of different houses of worship to understand other faiths and to grow together in mutual respect as a community.

Lorraine Breen, a member of the social concerns committee, said she wanted to get involved in community service when she retired as an administrative assistant. She appreciates the work of the committee to help the homeless, feed the hungry and help with housing.

"There are people in need, and as much as we can work together and help them, that's our goal," Monte said. "Our job is to respond to the needs of the community. That's what Christ asks us to do."

Andrews said the faith communities "engender the opportunity for people to volunteer and be part of the community" and to help their neighbors in need.

Supporting the programs of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services "is part of who we are," Deacon O'Brien said.

"Our job as a social concerns committee is to keep our [church] community focused on the needs out there," Monte said, "and to respond the way that Christ asked us. That's what drives us."

To schedule an appointment at the free clinic, call (802) 447-3700.

For more information on Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, go online to www.benningtoncares.org.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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