Oct. 7 2015 11:18 AM

Statue of religious figure to be removed from Pattengill

Wanted: A new home for a saint.

The statue of St. Francis of Assisi that graces a plot of land at Pattengill Middle School on Lansing’s east side is being evicted.

“I’m trying to reach the president of the neighborhood association to have it removed,” Teresa Symanski, operations director of the Lansing schools, said Tuesday. Her action was prompted by her visit to the site after a reporter asked why a religious figure’s statue was on school property. City Pulse learned of the statue from a reader.

Bernero spokesman Randy Hannan said Tuesday the application for the grant did not say any money would be used for the statue. He said the grant recipient plans to move the statue.

Francis was made the Roman Catholic patron saint of animals and the environment in the 13th century.

The statue was part of a beautification project funded by a neighborhood grant from Mayor Virg Bernero’s office issued to the Armory Alliance and Eastfield neighborhood groups. It sits facing south on two bricks nestled into a small flowerbed. To the north are two benches looking onto a nearby playground. On Monday, the playground stood unused, but a used condom and wrapper were just a few feet away from the equipment.

The school property was purchased from the U.S. military to make way for the new school, said Nancy Parson Mahlow, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association. The school opened in 2006. The plot of land in question had been maintained by the city as a park known as the 119th Park, in honor the infantry group stationed at the Armory.

While the beautification occurred using city tax dollars provided through a grant from the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Council, it was unclear whether tax dollars were used to pay for the statue.

Council member Monica Zuchowski said the group does not explicitly explain that the purchase of religious statues or other iconography is prohibited from grant funds.

“But we would never approve the purchase of a religious statue,” she said.

Piper Fountain, president of Armory Alliance, could not be reached for comment.

A First Amendment expert expressed concern.

“It's good that the school is now going to remove the statue, but it's still rather alarming,” said Ed Brayton, chairman of the advocacy committee of the Center for Inquiry of Michigan, a secular group that promotes the separation of church and state. "One has to wonder why no one at any stage of that process thought to question the propriety or legality of the project."