CHICAGO — A radio legend in Chicago found the broken Mary statue thoughtlessly discarded at the side of a dumpster, and it seemed to be a Godsend for the disc jockey after a series of personal setbacks — a terrible illness, getting fired and a lifelong grappling with a tumultuous childhood. That same statue, repaired in places but left partly damaged for symbolic reasons, was at the head of a recent nighttime, candle-lit procession of thousands of worshippers through the streets of Chicago.
The onetime disc jockey, Kevin Matthews, has taken the statue and told his story of redemption at nearly 100 churches, prisons, hospices, hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers in the Midwest and nationwide. The “Broken Mary” statue and its message of hope have touched hearts and revived people’s faith lives. “The statue went from a dumpster to a bed of roses,” Matthews told the Register. “There’s hope for all of us. We’re not garbage. We’re children of God.”
The 1.5-mile procession in Chicago in late May wound its way from St. John Cantius Catholic Church through streets plagued by violence to the ritzy Gold Coast near Lake Michigan. Participants prayed five Rosaries during the walk and reverently sang Ave Maria and the Salve Regina. The “There Is Hope for the Broken” walk was co-sponsored by Chicago police and firefighters and Illinois state police, and, using white poles balanced on their shoulders, first responders carried Matthews’ Broken Mary statue on a platform, sitting atop a bed of beautiful roses.
“I don’t want to say it was empowering — it was fortifying,” Andrea Eisenberg, a parishioner who helped organize the event for St. John Cantius, told the Register. “God can’t be ignored. Some people may want to put faith in the corner and say God is dead. But people want to be swept up in something bigger than themselves.”
The walk drew an estimated 3,000 people, including bystanders who impulsively decided to join in. Among those was a young married couple celebrating the wife’s birthday at a restaurant. “Who would pass up an opportunity to honor Our Lady?” the unidentified husband told Shalom World TV.
Matthews spoke inside St. John Cantius for a half hour before the colorful procession. Holding a rosary in the air, he said, “The Rosary is the story of Jesus Christ — the birth, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection — as seen and witnessed through the eyes of Mary.”
Until a few years ago, Matthews, 63, would have been an unlikely witness for devotion to Mary. In the 1980s and 1990s he was a popular disc jockey at hard-rock radio stations in Chicago. He was celebrated for his sometimes-sophomoric comedy that including doing voices of zany characters such as Jim Shorts, a fictional sportscaster. His loyal fans proudly described themselves as “Kev-Heads.”
Life turned on him, however. He lost his radio gig in 2005, and he discovered he had multiple sclerosis in 2009. He had grown up near Detroit with a father who drank heavily and was violent, he told the Register. His family was Catholic, but other than taking religious-education classes as a child, Matthews did not practice his faith. Looking back, he realizes his mistake in abandoning his faith. “Jesus did not let me go. I let go of his hand,” he said.
Matthews’ spiritual awakening came after a couple of incidents he can’t rationally explain. After his diagnosis, he was driving on an expressway near Chicago when he heard a voice telling him to “go to the cemetery.” So he exited the highway and drove to the nearby Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside. There, before a religious statue, he felt water running over his hands and regained, at least temporarily, feelings in his extremities.
Two years later, in 2011, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he lives today, Matthews again was seized by a random impulse: to buy flowers for his wife. It was outside a flower shop where he spied the four-foot Mary statue next to a blue dumpster. There was a big crack at the waist line, and her hands were chipped.
Matthews decided it was not right to just walk away with the statue, whose disrepair he immediately connected with his own brokenness and, indeed, the world’s. But, surprisingly, the shop owner would not give it to him or even sell it, saying it was a family heirloom. Matthews persisted, promising to make a donation to a charitable cause if the statue were his.
Matthews had the statue partially restored and also set about to repair his relationship with God. He began praying regularly, including the Rosary, though he admitted he did not know how to do so. “I had to Google it,” he said with a smile. Eventually, he developed two apps for praying the Rosary.
The loud, over-the-top cult radio star had turned inward and discovered peace, a gift he wants to share with others. “The world needs Mary. We need God. Where there is Mary, there is Christ. Where there is Christ, there is God,” he said.
“Mary is so gentle, so graceful,” he added. “What do you do when you make a mess? You go to mom. Mom cleans things up. Jesus says to me, ‘Kev, I will leave you with my mother.’”
Walk With Mary
The walk in Chicago occurred a few days after another violent weekend in the city, in which at least 43 people were shot and seven killed. First responders themselves in the Chicago area have had a difficult year, with many of their fellow comrades dying from fatal shootings by criminals and in highway accidents. Windy City crime in general shows the “lack of respect for life,” Father Daniel Brandt, director of the Chicago Police Chaplains Ministry, told the Chicago Tribune. “This walk can bring a lot of comfort and peace to a lot of broken people.”
The procession also came in the wake of legislative action in Illinois that will expand access to abortion. Some marchers said their concerns over the new laws gave the walk an extra sense of urgency and poignancy.
St. John Cantius Church is known for its solemn liturgies and sacred devotions. It’s also the home of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a community of religious brothers and priests established in 1998 to “restore the sacred in parochial life.” In 2017, to celebrate the centennial of the famed Marian apparition at Fatima, the church held regular processions around its block.
Matthews was invited to speak at St. John Cantius after he and Father Joshua Caswell, of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, an associate pastor, met each other when both happened to be guests on The Patrick McCormack Show on Relevant Radio. The coincidence was “providential,” St. John’s parishioner Eisenberg told the Register.
As for Matthews, he no longer does radio and MS remains a health threat. “I’m doing what the doctors tell me,” he responded when asked about his health. His role now is to help lead others toward healing and peace. Hearkening back to a terminology attached to his prior life in radio and music, he said with a smile, “I’m Mary’s roadie.”
Register correspondent Jay Copp writes from La Grange Park, Illinois.