The prayer mural at Cranston West must be removed but it might not be lost forever, as offers come in from potential hosts.
At Sunday’s mass at the Immaculate Conception church, Rev. Ron Brassard announced to his congregation that he made an offer to put the mural in the ICCR School on Garden Hills Drive. In addition to ICCR, St. Mary’s Feast Society has offered to take in the mural. At least one more offer has come in to date, from a historic building on Broad Street.
“Once there is a banner that has been preserved, the School Committee can sit down and discuss the offers that have been made,” said Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi.
She said there are too many unknowns to hint at what the outcome might be. An architect visited Cranston West to look at the mural, at no cost to the district, and told the committee that the removal and preservation work could be done in-house by school employees.
The banner must be removed within 10 days after the final court order is entered. When that will happen remains unclear, as district counsel Joseph Cavanagh Jr. continues to negotiate legal fees with the ACLU.
On that count, Iannazzi is urging Cranston residents to write letters and emails to the ACLU, asking them to lower their request for $173,000 in legal fees.
“It can’t hurt,” she said.
When asked Monday what offer she thought would be the best fit, School Committee member Stephanie Culhane said she was unsure.
“How is any one group more worthy than another? I don’t know how we would make a determination on that,” she admits.
Although Culhane voted not to appeal Judge Ronald Lagueux’s decision, she is pleased that such an alternative might be possible.
“Shouldn’t it be someplace where anyone could have access to it? That’s ultimately what I would like to see,” she said.
Cranston resident Bobby Bach has led the charge for relocating the banner, starting a Facebook page “Preserve the Banner” with Dennis Conte. The page has more than 1,700 fans, many of who have supported the cause by purchasing T-shirts that include the text of the banner, as well as custom airbrushed designs courtesy of Conte. The shirts are $5, with an additional $5 fee for airbrushing. Bach said in an earlier interview that he plans to give those funds to the district to offset the cost of removal and relocation.
Once the newest batch of shirts is sold, Bach and Conte will have raised $3,800, with many donations coming from around the country. At last Thursday’s meeting, one self-proclaimed atheist made a $500 donation.
“Somehow, Fox News picked up the story and in less than one day we ended up with another 78 people on the page and then they started mailing checks the next day,” Bach said.
While Bach is skeptical that the district will be able to do the work for any less than what they’ve raised, he is just glad that the mural will find a new home.
“I wouldn’t be happier than to see it over at Immaculate Conception, only because it is the largest religious school in the city and knowing Father Ron personally, I think he would do the right thing with it and make it accessible to people,” Bach said.
To purchase a shirt, visit the Preserve the Banner Facebook page to check for times, as the shirts are being sold out of Bach’s business, Twigs Florist, on Wilbur Avenue.
Brassard said Monday that he sent a letter to the committee in mid-January after the initial court ruling. When he informed his congregation this weekend, he said the reception was positive.
“The support has been overwhelming. People are very pleased with our move to offer to take the banner,” he said.
The prayer was adopted as a school creed in 1960, one year after Cranston West opened. Several years later, when the adjacent auditorium was built in 1963, the prayer was painted on the wall as a class gift. The prayer, or creed, is addressed to a “Heavenly Father,” and ends with “Amen.” The text of the creed deals with being a good student and friend, and bringing credit to Cranston West.
Through the year-and-a-half of public debate, many supporters have argued – as did the district’s legal counsel – that the text has a secular purpose and isn’t a prayer at all. Judge Lagueux pointed to the religious tone of the arguments in support of the class gift as proof to the contrary, calling the public hearing process a “religious revival.”
Brassard agrees that the creed is religious in nature, which is one of the reasons he would like to see it end up in a religious environment.
“It’s a prayer addressed to our Heavenly Father. I think it’s religious; I think it’s historical. It’s not imposing anything on people,” he said.
In particular, Brassard is hopeful that the prayer can serve as a positive message to young people.
“Being a school, it would resonate with where it’s been already. I think it’s an opportunity to champion the values of faith as they impact our society and our culture,” he said. “I think that’s one of the great benefits of this whole experience is that people have really spoken about it and thought about it. People are affirming the value of faith.”
Brassard is not sure of the mural’s dimensions, so he could not say for sure where in the school he would display the artifact. He suggested either outside or inside the gymnasium, and said it would potentially be available for public viewing after weekend masses or at some other pre-determined time.
Regardless of whether or not Immaculate Conception school is able to acquire the prayer, Brassard is hopeful that the artwork will stay close to its original home.
“I think that it would be a tragedy if that banner did not find a home somewhere in Cranston,” he said.