From a dumpster to the head of a procession: The story of 'Broken Mary'

Broken Mary procession Chicago ‘Broken Mary’ procession in Chicago. | Chris Sweda, Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. Used with permission.

On Friday, May 31, four lanes of traffic on a major thoroughfare in the city of Chicago shut down for an hour and a half, while 3,200 people marched past.

Instead of political banners, they held candles. Instead of shouting, they quietly prayed the rosary and sang Ave Maria. Instead of a politician or city official, they were led by 'Broken Mary,' a statue of the Virgin Mary rescued from a dumpster, who still bears the scars of her past - a crack in the middle where she was broken in half, chipped hands, faded paint with scratches.

The procession event, called "There is Hope for the Broken," was organized by Chicago parish St. John Cantius, and by Kevin Matthews, who rescued Mary from the garbage in 2010.

But really, Matthews told CNA, the procession was all Mary's idea.

Matthews first spotted what is now known as 'Broken Mary' outside of a dumpster at a flower shop, covered in trash and cracked in half. Mortified, he picked up the heavy concrete statue, brought her home and cleaned her up.

He had her restored to one piece again, but asked that her chips and scratches be left as they were: "No, she is broken, just like me. We all are broken and in need of repair. She represents the broken," he told the repairman.

After finding Mary, Matthews experienced a profound new devotion to the Mother of God. Although born a Catholic, Matthews had strayed from his faith for many years, and had never learned how to pray the rosary. After finding 'Broken Mary,' it became his top priority: praying the rosary and encouraging others to do the same.

On his website, Matthews recites the rosary every day, and anyone can tune in. He has two rosary apps, and he also travels with 'Broken Mary', giving talks on her love for the broken, and how she can lead them to her son, Jesus.

Although Matthews now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Chicago procession was something he had been praying about for a while, he said. Matthews was a radio DJ in the city for years, and in many ways it's his second home, he said.

"I love Chicago, I love the city," he said. "There's just so many people that wanted to pray for the city, and still do."

Matthews connected with Fr. Joshua Caswell, S.J.C., an associate pastor at St. John Cantius in Chicago, because of 'Broken Mary' - Matthews was on a Relevant Radio show to talk about his ministry, and Fr. Joshua was a guest on Relevant Radio that same day.

After much prayer between the two of them, they decided to start organizing a Chicago procession with 'Broken Mary' in February.

"Kevin had said, 'We need to bring Our Lady into the city, we need to bring her into the streets, she needs to be carried and be honored by people,'" Andrea Eisenberg, who served on the procession planning committee, told CNA.

But planning a large procession through the busy streets of Chicago is no small task, and shutting down four lanes of traffic on a busy street on a Friday night is a big ask.

"We knew it would only succeed if it were (Mary's) plans and how she wanted it to go and how she wanted it to be," Eisenberg said.

When Fr. Joshua applied for the permit, a city official saw the title of the event, "Hope for the Broken," and said: "Oh, I really hope so Father, because we could really use some hope around here in this city," Eisenberg recalled. Two days later, the permit came through.

The procession was the result of a combined effort of multiple police units and fire departments, Eisenberg said, as well as collaboration with Relevant Radio, Shalom T.V., the World Apostolate of Fatima, and other city officials.

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"It was a combined effort by everyone to take our faith to the streets, and it was important to everyone to be a visible sign to people that hey, there's hope, and it comes from our Lord, and our Lady will always bring us closer to him," Eisenberg said.

On the day of the event, more than 2,000 people filled St. John Cantius Church and spilled out into the streets during a talk on Mary and the rosary by Kevin Matthews. Afterwards, an estimated 3,200 people joined in the procession.

"We marched from St. John Cantius to the city, and the closer we got to the old water tower,  more and more people were stopping on either side of Chicago Ave, to stop what they were doing, open their iPhones and take pictures and notice," Matthews said.

"It was a very peaceful prayer walk that we were doing," he added. "We recited four rosaries, sang Ave Maria. It was a beautiful prayer, you could feel Mary's grace, and people...they took notice, and for the first time the city kind of just stopped for a moment and said a prayer for itself."

Eisenberg said that she thinks 'Broken Mary' appeals to so many people because brokenness is something to which nearly everyone can relate.

"I think that people really resonate with brokenness, there isn't anyone who can say, 'Oh well, I've reached perfection, I'm not broken, this doesn't apply to me'," she said.

It also makes holiness seem "attainable," she added.

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"I think when people look at saints, they look at a beautiful picture and think, 'Wow, this person must have lived a holy life all along...I could never do that.' But something that's holy, that's broken? It's like oh, I could be called to that, I'm broken, maybe this is for me too."

Throughout his ministry, Matthews said he has witnessed many people come back to their faith through 'Broken Mary.'

"It's just a concrete statue, but where that statue is, Mary is, and where Mary is there's Christ, and where there's Christ, there's God," Matthews said, "and I've seen a lot of people literally cry and empty themselves in front of Mary."

"She loves us so much that she will immediately embrace us in her Immaculate Heart. Mary, she's our mother, and people just go to her," he said.

"If you haven't been in church for a while or you feel ashamed, just go to Mary. And try to go to Mary through the rosary. Just hold that rosary and just say any prayer you'd like. Hold that rosary, be dedicated to that rosary," he added.

The statue of 'Broken Mary' will be at St. John Cantius Church through June 9, where people can pray before the statue. Those unable to visit in person can also submit prayer intentions online, which are printed out every day and set at the feet of 'Broken Mary.'

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