"A Journey of 9,000 Miles"

July 11, 2024

In the spring of 1857, Elizabeth Moore, Mary Elizabeth Jones, and her sister Louisa shared their vision of building a church in Edenton to “honor the glory of God” with the missionary priest.  The priest, firmly believing that this task was unsurmountable for the girls, assured them he would have nothing to do with their plans. Undismayed, Elizabeth, Mary Elizabeth, and Louisa forged ahead with their plans to build a worship space.  After tirelessly knocking on many doors in the community, teaching music, translating French, and writing letters to priests, prelates, and potential donors across the country, the girls cobbled together enough money to begin the construction of the church.  On July 26, 1858, the Feast of Saint Ann, Bishop Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina laid the cornerstone for the church in Edenton.  

Saint Ann Church and newly fenced cemetery

One hundred sixty-seven years later, this same fiery spirit, undaunted determination, and rock-solid faith was evident in a newly arrived pastor at Saint Ann Parish. Fr. Jairo Maldonado-Pacheco, assigned to the parish in 2022, envisioned the building of a prayerful space to honor the patron saint of the church, Saint Ann. This oasis of peace, in his mind, would serve as an area where parishioners and visitors could quietly pray, reflect, and meditate. The crowning glory of this sacred space would be the placement of a statue of Saint Ann under a historic magnolia tree. 

Saint Ann parishioners, buoyed by Fr. Jairo’s energy, enthusiasm, and excitement, provided undulating support throughout the prayer garden project. Parishioner Bob Escheman, a landscape architect, offered his skill and talent to design the garden. Walt Smith, a long-time parishioner who served as Project Manager for numerous church projects, was coaxed out of retirement to oversee the building of the garden, along with managing the sale of commemorative bricks to help finance the project. A fundraising committee, aptly led by Nell Drees, David Salomon, Pam Wagner, and Michael Garguilo, sprang into action to raise monies for this project. Numerous fish fries and dinners were held.  Raffles, amply supported by parishioners hoping to win a large cash prize, were a highlight of the fundraising efforts. Proceeds from a flea market, organized by Elaine Moriarty and Kathy Masters, also added significantly to the fundraising coffers. All told, over $58,000 was raised for the Prayer Garden.

Lazy Weekends crew that helped positioned the statue on the pedestal

The journey to completion of the garden- much like the young ladies’ pathway to raising money to build the church- was fraught with unanticipated obstacles and opposition.  The garden’s construction was delayed by the Town of Edenton Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation to re-situate the garden in a location “hidden” from pedestrian and vehicular traffic on South Broad Street, the main artery through the Town of Edenton.  Parishioner Bob Kirby, a civil engineer, P.E., and County Commissioner, known to be a consistently staunch advocate for Saint Ann in the political arena, fought against this recommendation.  Certain that Corey Gooden, The Town of Edenton Manager, would be convinced of the planned site’s ideal location, Bob invited him to visit the church campus and view the proposed prayer garden area. Bob’s plan worked; Mr. Gooden vetoed the Historical Commission’s recommendation and gave the green light for the project to continue.  

Other obstacles, however, served to put brakes on Fr. Jairo’s dream.  A statue of Saint Ann, along with a smaller statue of her daughter, the young Blessed Virgin Mary, was commissioned and paid for by Mrs. Teresa Phan, a philanthropist from a nearby parish. Mrs. Phan chose to have artisans in Ho Min Chin, Vietnam sculpt these statues.  The statues’ 9,000-mile journey from Vietnam to Edenton was a tale rife with adventure, intrigue, and scandal. Shipping delays, lost paperwork, and money falling into the wrong hands added weeks to the statue’s original delivery date. After an exchange of numerous emails and frenzied telephone calls between the Parish Office and the statue factory, shipping agents, importers, exporters, and customs officials, along with a generous outpouring of heartfelt prayers, the statues arrived in Edenton on August 18th.   

Saint Ann Prayer Garden

Three days later, a crew of seven from Lazy Weekends, a local landscaping company contracted to build the garden, arrived to carefully uncrate the statues of Saint Ann and the young Blessed Virgin Mary and place them in their designated place. Onlookers watched with bated breath as the last piece of wood crating was removed and plastic wrapping was carefully peeled from the statue.  Much to all’s dismay, the statue of Saint Ann arrived with a broken toe on her right foot.  It was apparent to all at the uncrating that the weight of the young Blessed Virgin Mary statue on Saint Ann’s foot, coupled with shifting en route, was the cause of the damaged toe. Parishioners have been quick to downplay this imperfection.  Looking at the statue of Saint Ann and the young Blessed Mother, they, along with visitors, see “perfection.” One cannot help but be calmed by the statue’s serene, reassuring gaze.  

The Saint Ann Prayer Garden, which began as a lofty and, at times, unobtainable dream, became a reality on Sunday, September 6th.  Surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of parishioners, Fr. Jairo joyfully dedicated the newly built prayer garden graced by a majestic statue of Saint Ann with her daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, at her side.

Fr. Jairo, in the company of parishioners, blesses the garden

The numerous difficulties encountered in the building of this prayer garden oasis, coupled with the statue’s perilous journey to Edenton, should serve as an inspiration for all.  Willing parishioners, fervent prayers, steadfast faith, and a determined pastor guarantee a good ending for any seemingly insurmountable project.  

Saint Ann, pray for us!

Saint Ann statue depicting the dedication plaque

Michelle Benavides

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