In August of 1980, Msgr. John Sweeny, then pastor of Our Lady of Peace Church in Santa Clara, California, fulfilled a long-time desire to give special honor to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That month, he commissioned Charles C. Parks, a noted sculptor, of Wilmington, Delaware, to design a 32-foot stainless steel statue of Our Lady, under this title. Thus began a remarkable odyssey, of a truly extraordinary image of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God. After several models, the masterpiece was begun.
The statue, which some have called “the awesome Madonna,” was finished in the Summer of 1982. It stands higher than most three-story buildings. The 7200-pound statue rises to a height of thirty-two feet and rests on a twelve-foot landscaped mound. The head, hands, and feet are cast in stainless steel. The gown is constructed of welded strips of stainless steel.
It was erected outdoors, on the lawn of the artist’s studio. It created so much interest, and attracted so many visitors — day and night — that the Mayor of Wilmington invited the sculptor to put it on public display in the heart of the city. There it remained from September 1 to October 10, 1982. Many busloads of pilgrims came from distant cities, to see the statue, and to pray.
During that period, the local paper printed a special supplement titled “The Madonna In Rodney Square”, telling the story of the statue and of the vision of Fatima. The first 10,000 copies sold out in one day. In November 1982,Delaware Today magazine published a special article with full color pictures under the title “The Madonna Phenomenon.”
The statue was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Pierre DuMaine of the Diocese of San Jose, in Santa Clara, California. The ceremony took place on October 7,1983, Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. Msgr. Sweeny considered the date significant. This date was the 15th anniversary of the beginning of monthly First Friday all-night vigils in this parish.
Pope John Paul II sent a special blessing for the dedication ceremony. During the three days of October 7th to 9th, there were religious and civic ceremonies and public acknowledgements at the foot of the statue. At the final service, on Sunday, October 9th, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., of the Family Rosary Crusade, gave the homily.
The Shrine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Our Lady of Peace is the only major Marian Shrine on the West Coast between Our Lady of Sorrows Shrine in Portland, Oregon, (over 700 miles to the north), and the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, (over 2,300 miles to the south).