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Sculpture finds sanctuary in Ybor City church

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:44 AM

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YBOR CITY -

Rachel Krause stands in the unfinished sanctuary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Chapel, the sunlight filtering through the windows. She closes her eyes and takes in the smell of sawdust.

It comforts her. It reminds her of her late father, who made a living as a master carpenter and an artist.

His name was Jakob Henry. She wishes she could hug him. She would tell him about her year-old son, Nathan, his first grandchild. And how much she misses the long hours they spent in his workshop. She would assure him that she will never forget the two-story treehouse he built her as a child or all the adventures he took her on in his truck.

And she would tell him, "Mission accomplished."

Since her father's death at age 49 on New Year's Day in 2006, Krause felt responsible for finding the right home for his most significant piece of art, "The Deposition," a sculpture depicting Christ's removal from the cross. At 1,200 pounds and 7½ feet tall, it would have to be the perfect place, one that reflected the profound reverence of the scene.

Though it has been appraised at $50,000, she didn't want a penny for the sculpture. What she wanted was a resting place for her father's legacy. A place where it could be admired by the faithful and perhaps give spiritual comfort to those seeking solace.

This Easter, the day Christians celebrate new beginnings, will have special meaning for Henry's 24-year-old daughter, the eldest of his two girls. Finally, "The Deposition" is where it should be.

For years it was sequestered in a Clearwater storage facility, shrouded in oversized blankets and tethered to a wooden pallet. Last month, the sculpture was delivered to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an independent Catholic church in Ybor City.

It wasn't installed in the temporary sanctuary where the congregation gathers to celebrate Mass in Latin. Instead, it was placed next door in the chapel, still under construction. An alcove to house the sculpture will be built in the front inside entrance. It will be the first thing worshippers see when they enter and the last thing they see when they leave.

"It took a few years longer than I wanted, but this was on God's time, not mine," Krause says. "I know my dad was part of this, too."

The earnest journey to find "The Deposition" a home began with a Tampa Tribune article that ran on Easter Sunday in 2008.

The story recounted Jakob Henry's obsession with this particular piece. He spent three years in his Clearwater garage studio, chiseling and hammering the white Georgia man-made marble. He would work as a carpenter and cabinetmaker by day to pay the bills, and then on his sculpture through the nights and weekends, a cigarette in his mouth and endless cups of coffee by his side.

Sometimes his wife, Laurie, would hear Led Zeppelin playing the background. Other times, stone silence.

He would stare for hours at his own image in a mirror to create the features in the Christ figure. With the other characters — Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Joseph of Aramaethea; and Nicodemus — he concentrated on detailing the emotion of Jesus' death and the burden of laying him to rest. He etched expressions of pain, love and grief into their faces.

Henry completed his project in 1989. Because of its size and its religious nature, he knew he had a limited pool of potential buyers. That didn't seem to bother him. He preferred showing it off to people who stopped by. He liked the conversation it generated.

Henry's fortunes began to slide as he gave in to his personal demons. His addiction to alcohol and drugs began to overshadow everything else in his life. His marriage broke up and he had to move back home with his parents. He was destitute and lost.

The sculpture that had given him such a passionate pursuit was moved to a storage facility.

In fall 2005, Henry began suffering from blinding headaches. On Oct. 6, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer when doctors found multiple tumors on his lungs and in his brain. He had no insurance or money to seek aggressive treatment. So his mother, once a nurse's aide, cared for him in their converted garage.

Within three months, Henry was dead. Krause, then 20, grieved for her beloved dad, who always remained a hero in her eyes. And she fretted over the fate of his masterpiece.

After the story ran in the Tribune, she got several offers for a home. Some she discounted immediately. Others she considered: a religious museum in Texas, a display area at MacDill Air Force Base.

But it was the small Catholic congregation in Ybor City that caught her attention. Her father was a spiritual man, raised a Catholic, but he no longer had much use for organized religion. In his travels to Europe, he was enthralled with the architecture of centuries-old churches. He loved their religious artwork and the old-fashioned methods used to create it.

Members of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are all about tradition.

Like other independent Catholic groups, they came together out of defiance of the Second Vatican Council, which brought sweeping reforms to the church in the mid-1960s. Traditionalists found many of the changes unacceptable: offering the Mass in the English language, removing the communion rails, repositioning the priest to face the congregation and allowing parishioners to receive the consecrated host in their hands.

"That was the final straw for me," says Jim Garcia, treasurer of the congregation. "I never wanted to leave the church, but I felt the church had left me."

About two dozen people gathered for their first official service 19 years ago on Aug. 22, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It has grown to about 150 families and is led by priests from the St. Louis King of France religious order, which has not followed the four popes since the Vatican Council.

Though Latin Masses are now permitted and are offered here with the permission of the local bishop, Immaculate Heart continues to operate independently. Congregants use the 1958 Missal and adhere to doctrine that defined the church since its beginning.

"When I hear of bringing modern changes to the church, that doesn't make any sense to me," says member John Konzelmann, a software consultant. "What we have here is what has always been. It's a reverent experience that strengthens my faith, something I wasn't feeling in the contemporary churches."

In many ways, "The Deposition" and the Immaculate Heart's new sanctuary are alike.

It took Henry several years to create his masterpiece. He depended on benefactors and set aside money from extra jobs, paying for it as he went along.

It's the same thing at the church. Congregants don't want to take out a mortgage. The building has been under construction for a few years, halting progress whenever money was tight. They estimate it will cost $1 million by the time it is completed — they're hoping later this year — but they won't have to worry about repaying a loan.

When Garcia first read about "The Deposition" in 2008, he knew it would be the perfect centerpiece for the yet-to-be-built church. It was something the congregation could never afford; to get this as a gift would be a blessing from God, he thought. He and the architect met with Krause and Henry's mother, Ottie, to express their interest in the sculpture. They spoke of its spiritual significance in relation to their faith, how they would preserve it and display it in a way that honored Henry's meticulous work.

The women prayed about it. They decided to go on faith that Immaculate Heart would one day build the church that members envisioned. Henry's masterpiece is now yours, they told the church.

The congregation began paying the storage fee that August. They didn't think it would be this long before they could bring "The Deposition" home. Members now can see the finish line to a journey that began so long ago.

"I was blown away by how much they care about it," Krause says. "My dad would have been blown away. Everything has turned out just the way it was meant to be."


mbearden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7613

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