Show us your … religious statues | Show us your [____] | Chicago Reader

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Show us your … religious statues

Ray Gadke's had his collection of religious statues since the 80s.


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Each week we ask you to show us something. This week it's RAY GADKE'S RELIGIOUS STATUES. Got something to show us?

It's well-known among University of Chicago students that the Regenstein Library contains a wealth of books, archives, and sleepyheads trying to catch up on homework. And until recently, the corner office of the microfilm section on the third floor sheltered two exquisite, nearly six-foot-tall statues of St. Augustine and the apostle Peter, originally fashioned in Munich in the mid-1800s.

These life-size, painted wooden figures are only a fraction of the collection of religious statues that Ray Gadke, head of the microforms department at the Regenstein, has kept in his possession since the 80s. As a former history graduate student at the U. of C., Gadke has always been interested in how people identify themselves, particularly in terms of ethnicity and religion.

When Chicago experienced a drastic demographic shift in the 80s, according to Gadke, many predominantly white Catholic churches were being closed down or abandoned.

"In doing [my graduate] research I got to know a number of priests and people that worked in these churches, and one time a pastor said, 'Our church is closed; is anyone interested in having these statues?' And on a whim, I said, 'Yeah.'"

Since then, Gadke has made a hobby out of not only collecting the statues, but also donating them to Catholic churches and schools in the area.

"My collection evolves and revolves because as I get new ones, I've given a lot away," he says. "It's an ongoing process."

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