Our Lady of Lourdes Statue: A History
Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is known for the iconic statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that has stood atop the Camden, N.J., hospital for 70 years. The two-story statue, which rises 185 feet above the ground, is a beacon of hope and healing for the City of Camden and beyond. Bathed in various colored lights in honor of our patients, special causes, and occasions, the statue is also a striking symbol against the night sky. Beginning at dusk on June 30, Our Lady will be lit blue to celebrate Virtua and Lourdes becoming united. Our Lady will continue to shine with blue light through July 7.*
At 30 feet tall (including the base) and weighing 15 tons, Our Lady was once the largest statue of its kind in the United States—even bigger than one at the University of Notre Dame.
Commissioned by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany in the late 1940s for $10,000 (about $107,000 in today’s money), Our Lady was carved out of Indiana limestone by a team led by sculptor Ivan L. Adams.
On March 21, 1949, workers began the weeklong task of raising the statue’s six sections into place on the newly completed building. But as the workers hoisted the final piece—the head—a cable snapped. A beam went flying across the tower and the head teetered on the parapet—at risk of falling seven stories and smashing to the ground. This prompted the hospital’s first administrator, Sister Mary Paracleta, to write a note of blessing and place it inside the head asking the Blessed Mother to protect the city and hospital. Camden Bishop Bartholomew J. Eustace, who quickly got word of the near mishap, also placed a small relic of St. Francis inside the head.
Damaged by Earthquake
In August 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattled the East Coast from South Carolina to Maine, causing the statue’s middle section to shift nearly two inches and resulting in a large vertical crack. (The same quake also damaged the Washington Monument.) Fearing the statue could topple, hospital leaders quickly had her wrapped in guy-wires and scaffolding. In November 2011, Our Lady was transported to a warehouse in Swedesboro for repairs.
The community raised thousands of dollars toward the restoration, with schools, churches, area companies, and families taking part. Students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Regional School in Berlin, N.J., donated more than $1,100 for the statue.
Highly skilled conservators with Kreilick Conservation, LLC, took five months cleaning, mending, and strengthening the statue, which, like the Statue of Liberty, is hollow to reduce her weight on the building. In some places, conservators added new limestone to replace features damaged during the quake.
During the renovation, conservators discovered the items placed by Sister Paracleta and Bishop Eustace, the existence of which had become lore among longtime staff. The relic of St. Francis was in good shape, but Sister Paracleta’s note, which she wrapped in X-ray film, was badly damaged by water. Both items were donated to the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany.
Our Lady was reinstalled in April 2012, just in time for Easter. Her makeover included a new illuminated halo and LED lights at the base that allow the statue to be bathed in colored lights for different occasions. These include:
- Green for a kidney, liver, or pancreas transplant performed at the hospital—a unique symbol of the importance of organ donation
- Red for Heart Month
- Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
- Blue for autism awareness and, now, to celebrate joining with Virtua
Images of Our Lady are treasured keepsakes. Every living organ donor and recipient receives a framed photo of the statue lit in green. A composite photo of Our Lady in different colors recently was distributed to all employees in honor of Hospital Week.
Like the city she faces, Our Lady has faced many challenges. Today, both look toward a bright future.
*In the event of a transplant surgery during the week of July 1, the statue will be lit in green instead of blue, per Lourdes tradition.