UPDATE, September 19: The suspect returned to St. Gerard Majella in Hollis, Queens late on the evening of September 17 and attempted to push over a statue of the Virgin Mary. The person in question then took a picture of the statue before leaving the scene.
“We continue to work with our NYPD friends and the community of greater Hollis to search for and find this women before someone gets hurt or she comes and damaged more sacred objects,” said pastor Father Joseph Jude Gannon in a statement following the incident. “We are praying for the NYPD, for justice, for safety and for a good resolution to this very soon. May Mother Mary and St Gerard guide and intercede for us.”
The NYPD Crime Stoppers Bureau has issued a notification in regards to the person wanted in connection with the vandalism at St. Gerard Majella in Hollis, Queens.
HOLLIS — The Shrine Church of St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, was vandalized twice in one week in September, according to pastor Father JosephJude Gannon, who said he believes the same person was responsible for both acts.
Security footage from a camera on one corner of the church caught the nighttime visitor dressed head to toe in white between midnight and sunrise on both Sept. 9 and Sept. 16 tearing down signs, destroying rosary prayer stations and damaging a sprinkler system in the parish parking lot at the corner of 188th Street and 91st Avenue. The pastor believes the same woman committed both crimes because of how she walks and the backpack she carries with her.
On both occasions, the suspect, who is still at large, spent almost an hour in the lot. On Sept. 9, she walked around the lot tearing down every sign in sight, including signs with the parish name on them and with the name of nearby Incarnation Catholic Academy, Queens Village, Father Gannon said.
When she returned on Sept. 16, she ripped out the sprinkler system, and then used a saw to cut out a section of a railing along the steps leading up into the area, Father Gannon said. Then, she tore down all 20 of the stone depictions of the rosary mysteries and threw them in the trash, destroying some beyond repair, the pastor said.
Father Gannon said the vandalism on the first night caused between $2,000 and $3,000 in damages, while the second night of vandalism could cost up to $10,000.
“It’s a punch in the stomach because it’s Mother Mary,” Father Gannon said. “This is the gift of the people of the parish from Generations of Faith, which we worked so hard for. So many people come here and pray after Mass. Neighborhood people come here and just ask Mary’s blessing.”
The parish was one of the first to take part in Generations of Faith, the capital campaign for the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens launched in 2015. The pastor said the parish used some of the money it raised to build the prayer space that was vandalized.
Many people visit the shrine, which is known as an outdoor prayer garden. Maria Casimir is one of them. She has been a parishioner at St. Gerard Majella for 22 years, and was married in the church in 1991 before she became a parishioner. She goes to the prayer garden often, and said many others do, too.
The prayer garden is convenient for Casimir, who uses a motorized wheelchair. She has Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of its peripheral nervous system — the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord.
It’s easier for Casimir to go to the garden than to go around the church and up the ramp in the back to get into the sanctuary.
Casimir called the acts of vandalism wicked, but said she would pray for the person because he or she may be looking for help. She donated to the Generations of Faith collection that was used to help build the rosary stations.
“It’s all of our money put together who built this up,” she said. “This person hurt all of us when they did that.
“Now it’s our problem. We all need to come together to fix it. That’s not fair. It looks so beautiful.”
The latest acts of vandalism at St. Gerard Majella make four incidents Father Gannon deems serious in the last year. Before that, Father Gannon said the parish hadn’t had any serious incidents during his time there. He’s been at the parish for about 10 years.
“I would consider it a hate crime,” Father Gannon said of the recent vandalism. “I don’t know what the legal classifications are and things like that, but I think it’s a direct attack against Mary, against the parish and against the church in general. It’s a very disturbing trend that has been escalating, not just here but in many places.”
Father Gannon said police have increased patrols around the area overnight, but he is also asking for the community’s help by being on the lookout for the suspect and calling the police if anyone sees him or her.
For now, the parish will repair what has been damaged. The rosary stations are part of a matching set from Italy, along with the statue of Mary in the garden and the Stations of the Cross behind the rectory. The pastor said the parish will mend some of the stations, while others are beyond repair.