James Rada Jr.
The Gregory family of Big Hook Crane and Rigging operate cranes to carefully guide the crown atop the 26-foot statue of Mary at the Grotto at Mount St. Mary’s University.
Mary is shown being placed on her pedestal with her crown.
Brock Gregory (left) is shown with Mount St. Mary’s University President Tim Trainer.
Big Hook’s cranes are shown doing the work.
The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg will once again wear a crown of flowers on May 7. The annual crowning of the statue will take place after noon Mass.
The ceremony involves the large crown of silk flowers being blessed at the church and then carried to the statue. Two people are then lifted up in a man-basket to place the crown on Mary’s head.
“The crown is six to eight feet wide,” said Steve Gregory, an owner of Big Hook Crane and Rigging. “It takes two people to lift it and place it on her head.”
The iconic 26-foot statue of Mary overlooks the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and Mount Saint Mary’s University campus from atop the 78-foot Pangborn Memorial Campanile. The statue is located at the entrance to the Grotto, where the old Church of St. Mary had been constructed in 1805 by the university’s founder, Reverend John Dubois, and which has also served as a place of worship for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, according to the Mount.
The ceremony has been happening since 2014, and Steve and Cecelia Gregory have always participated, along with their son, Brock, son-in-law Kyle Koelzer, and crew.
Cecelia is a Mount Alumna with deep roots at the Grotto. Cecilia’s maiden name is Wivell and she is one of hundreds of Wivells in the area. It’s fitting that many family members have found their final resting place at St. Anthony’s Cemetery.
Cecelia’s brother, Jeff, wed his bride, Tammy, there, and the Blessed Mother can clearly be seen from the family farm in the valley below. Summer novenas hosted by Monsignor Phillips (who married Cecilia and Steve) were always well attended.
The Gregorys have donated the services of the crane and its operators each year. “Helping out with this means more to us than just a job,” Steve said. “We’re Catholic, and it’s part of being a part of the community.”
Not only is the statue in a tricky position to reach, but special care also has to be taken not to damage the statue. The man-basket is wrapped in blankets so as to not scratch the statue or damage the gold gilding.
The crown will remain on the statue’s head throughout the month of May. This Catholic tradition originated in Italy during the Middle Ages. It is called “The Thirty Day Devotion to Mary,” the May crowning. The ceremony honors Mary as the Queen of May and the Blessed Mother. Although the statue of Mary is crowned, Catholics recognize that it is not the statue that is celebrated but that which the statue represents: Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
The ceremony attracts close to 500 people, depending on the weather. “It seems to be getting more popular each year,” Steve said.
Big Hook Crane and Rigging was contacted in 2021 by Mount St. Mary’s University to remove the statue of Mary after she was found to be in dire need of structural restoration. That project required two cranes and the addition of other expertise, like Dan’s Welding and Fabrication. Everything was carefully evaluated by Brock, Steve, and the team of experts, including weights, welds, and placement of rigging to safely remove her on July 7, 2021, where she has stood since 1964.
She was loaded onto Big Hook’s truck and trailer for her journey to Manassas, Virginia, where she spent the next year getting structurally overhauled and restored. Finally, on July 29, 2022, Brock hauled her back to the Grotto, where she was restored to her plinth, overlooking St Joseph’s valley on July 30, 2022.