PUNXSUTAWNEY — The fable of the long-lost statues of Saints Cosmas and Damian being lost at sea may be a bit of a stretch — but as SS.C.D. pastor Msgr. Joseph Riccardo said, “It kind of throws a mystery into the story.”
Saturday, Riccardo accepted one of four Awards of Commendation from the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society on behalf of the Ss. Cosmas & Damian Roman Catholic Church congregation, which the Society cited for not only the long-overdue placement of the church’s patron saints in their niches at the church, but also its year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary, which included an extensive history of the church compiled by the Rev. Fr. Justin Pino.
According to Riccardo, the statues of Cosmas and Damian — the patrons saints of not only the Punxsy parish, but the health care field in general — were a planned part of the church around 1941. Acquiring the statues, however, seems to never have happened.
“From our search in history, we found that there was never any record of there being an order for the statues,” he said. “They had apparently reached the limits of their finances and postponed the project.”
The postponement lasted about 65 years, until planning began for the church’s 125th anniversary.
“We finally got around to it, and we did it in 2009, about 65 years later,” Riccardo said. “We made it one of the goals of the anniversary.”
Finally, Sept. 16, 2009, the Italian-made marble statues of Saints Cosmas and Damian were placed.
So what about that lost-at-sea theory?
“That story would crop up year after year,” he said, adding that just as other aspects, the statues’ fable is part of the church’s history. “ We said, ‘Why don’t we get the statues to put in there?’ The subject was brought up several times in a two-year span. And then it was the anniversary, and we decided it was probably a good idea.”
Riccardo said after years of theories and questions about the long-overdue statues, the congregation rose to the challenge of bringing the statues to a new home a reality.
“The response was very positive,” he said. “We collected over half a million dollars for the anniversary project, which included the placement of the statues and the renovation.”
As part of the 125th anniversary celebration Pino — who now serves as the priest of St. Joseph and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, both in Oil City, as well as the archivist and historian of the Diocese of Erie — also researched and compiled the church’s extensive history, which dates back to 1885, when after a regular Sunday mass, the Catholic congregation of Clayville selected a location for its new church.
“He not only compiled the history, himself, but he also helped coordinate the myriad of events for the celebration,” Riccardo said of Pino.
The celebration of SS.C.D.’s 125th anniversary began in September 2009 and ended in October 2010. It included events such as the re-interment of Msgr. Herman C. Winker who provided leadership to the increasing number of Catholic in Jefferson and Clarion counties in 1869; a White Mass for health care/medical professionals; a celebration of the 35th anniversary of Riccardo’s 35th ordination; and the solemn closing of the jubilee year with Bishop Donald Trautman.
Looking back on a year since the anniversary concluded, Riccardo said it was almost overwhelming.
“We both remarked toward the end of the celebration year that perhaps we bit off more than we could chew,” he said. “Looking back on it now, it all fell into place. The events were eagerly anticipated, and eventually, fully participated in. I think everyone came out of that celebration year with a multitude of memories.”
The Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society’s Awards of Commendation are presented annually to area residents or organizations who have actively and voluntarily supported the goals of restoring and preserving Punxsutawney area history in their private efforts.