LA CONNER – Peter Andriesen and fellow members of Sacred Heart Parish were mucking out rubbish and brush on the parish grounds in 2012 when they discovered a forgotten figurine of Mary, lying on the ground.
“We’ve got a nice statue here,” Andriesen remembers fellow worker Dennis Massoth telling him, then adding: “Now you’ve got to make a shrine for it.”
Andriesen, whose background includes a career as an artist, gallery owner and college instructor, agreed to craft an enclosure for the concrete statue at the La Conner parish.
That fall, an identical 2-foot-tall concrete statue was found on the grounds of St. Charles Parish in nearby Burlington. “It was exactly the same circumstances, guys working on a cleanup,” Andriesen said. He built a shrine for it, too.
That could have been the end of the story, but Andriesen chewed on the idea of doing something a little bigger: creating 10 Marian shrines around Skagit County, places people could visit and pray a decade of the rosary at each location.
His wife, Clare, encouraged him to keep going. With the help of friends from different parishes in the region, Andriesen developed the “Pray the Rosary in Skagit Valley” project.
Peter Andriesen and a group of friends created a “rosary” of Marian shrines in Skagit County. This shrine stands outside Sacred Heart Parish in La Conner. Photo: Courtesy Peter Andriesen
Maggie Schacht, also a Sacred Heart parishioner, helped find spots for the shrines that are visible from the road. Locations include churches, homes, businesses and farms — some with views of hills and rivers — from La Conner to Mount Vernon and Burlington.
“I am hoping this will bring more people to Skagit County to pray the rosary,” Schacht said.
Most of the small statues in the shrines are made of fiberglass, ordered through Amazon.com. At St. Charles Parish, the statue is decorated to resemble Our Lady of Guadalupe, in honor of the parish’s sizable Latino community. The shrine at St. Paul Parish on the Swinomish tribal reservation features Mary in the image of a Native American.
Outside Schacht’s electrolysis business in Mount Vernon sits a shrine of Mary adorned with a halo and glittery paint. Schacht wondered how people would react to the shrine, but “I have been blessed because a lot of my clients who might not be Catholic have commented very positively on it,” she said.
Challenges have cropped up during the three-year project, which is privately funded. The concrete statue at St. Charles was stolen and replaced with a fiberglass one. Then the group had to refinish the first six fiberglass statues after discovering that paint applied directly to fiberglass peels off. So they sandblasted and primed the statues before repainting them.
Schacht said participating in the project has brought her and her husband, Ken Schacht, closer to Mary. The couple took a trip to Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where apparitions of Mary have been reported. While there, Schacht asked Mary to point her to a prayer to share at her shrine back home. The result was the “Our Lady Queen of Peace” placards, in English and Spanish, displayed at the shrine outside her business.
Over three years, Andriesen and his friends — including Denny Doneen, Roy Blacher, Steve Bruffy, Frank Lambert, Dominic McGuire, Stan Shimkus, Mike Compton, and Massoth (who died in October) — poured concrete foundations and built the 5-foot-tall shrines made of wood and masonry.
The final gem in the rosary is the 11th shrine — a statue of Jesus — under construction at Sacred Heart Parish, where people can pray the Our Father on the rosary route. Andriesen is crafting a painted Plexiglas pane to mount behind the figure of Christ, where it will cast colored patterns on the statue.