MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And today, we're all about moderation, whether at the office, at the dinner table or on the highways. Interstate 95 is not the place we usually associate with moderate driving. But if you've ever cruised on that highway up in Northern Maryland near the Delaware border, you may have noticed an unusual marker, one that encourages all of us to be just a little bit safer behind the wheel. In our regular transportation segment, From A to B, Jonathan Wilson brings us the story of this somber roadside attraction and the people who put it there.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
The statue is large but not towering. Instead of looming over drivers from its hillside perch, it simply seems to be watching. But as Father Michael McMurray (sic) says, somehow it's unmistakable.
FATHER MICHAEL MURRAY
It is a visual, even if people don't know the history or the significance of it or the, you know, the background behind it. Anyone who travels this part of the interstate network with any frequency knows exactly where this is.
Murray, the superior of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, is referring to a 12-foot statue of the virgin Mary that faces northbound traffic on I-95 in Childs, Md. Black letters mounted on a low brick wall beneath the statue proclaim her Our Lady of the Highways. Most people who pass the statue have no idea who the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic Apostolic order dedicated to education are. Father Murray says that's okay.
Friends of mine, like in Northern Virginia or D.C. will say, now, where's that again? And I say, well, if you're driving North on 95, just before you hit the last exit in Maryland. And then they usually stop me and say, oh, is it the place with the statue and the sign out front? And I said, said same.
But the statue that's become such a recognizable landmark isn't the first to sit on this hillside, Brother John Dacus (sp?), remembers the original erected here in 1971.
BROTHER JOHN DACUS
Actually, it was five feet tall and it was made of cement. And it did not hold up very well in the Maryland winters and with the rain and the weather.
The tragic motivation for the shrine occurred three years earlier.
In October of '68, the accident actually happened.
Back then the interstate was just a few years old and in the early morning hours of October 2nd, Oblates on this campus ran down to the highway to help the victims of a 17 car collision. Three people died in the accident. Brother Dacus says poor visibility was likely to blame.
This area of fog used to settle over it because of a paper mill that was in the area. And it used to change the temperature of the creek that runs through here and it would form a fog.
The memory of that day lives on with the statue. The Oblates replaced the original in 1986 with the 12-foot Vermont Carrara marble figure so many drivers recognize today. Though, that paper mill and the unnatural fog it spawned are now gone, Dacus fears certain aspects of travel on the nation's roads have gotten worse.
We've lost a great civility toward each other in driving. If you don't put your foot on that gas pedal in a nanosecond, someone's yelling at you, someone's honking their horn.
Father Murray says he hopes motorists driving past Our Lady of the Highways can cast a glance toward her and remember to be calm no matter how fast or slow the traffic is moving that day.
You know, your hands are burning through the steering wheel but, you know, maybe just look at the statue of the Blessed Mother, just reminds you, well you know, as frustrating as this is and as important as it was for me to get to where I'd hoped to go two hours ago, there's a bigger picture.
Brother Dacus says you don't have to be a Catholic to get the message Our Lady of the Highways is sending.
It's a reminder also to be a bit more kind, to be a bit more humane, Christian if that's your belief, whatever your belief is, to remind yourself within that belief to be a little kinder, a little more civil and to be a little more courteous on the road.
And let's face it, on some days, it seems like bringing just a little civility to the roads would take a miracle. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
You can see photos of the Oblates shrine to safe driving and civility on the roads on our website metroconnection.org and if you've driven past this I95 landmark, we want to know, has it made a difference on your road trip? Let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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