Woman who restored baby Jesus statue a NEPA native

Sep. 18—A priest who had faith in her sparked Melissa Restuccia's side gig.

In her full-time job, the Honesdale native is chairwoman of the art department for the Vestal Central School District in Vestal, New York, near Binghamton. Before that, she earned an associate degree in fine arts from Keystone Junior College and a bachelor's degree in art education from Marywood University.

About a decade ago, parishioners aimed to rebuild Our Lady of Sorrows, a Catholic church in Vestal. The priest there asked her for help with one part of the reconstruction.

"And the priest there said, 'Our Stations of the Cross are in really bad shape. Can you fix them?' " Restuccia, 52, said.

In Catholicism, the Stations of the Cross are paintings or icons that depict the events of Jesus Christ's last day on Earth. They ring the interior of many churches.

"I said, 'Well, I'm more of an illustrator-painter.' And he said, 'Well, I have faith in you,' " she said.

Using available learning materials online, she taught herself how to mold the crucifixes that adorn each station and otherwise spruced them up.

"So basically, I've learned by just doing as I go along, I'm self-taught," she said. "I've done I would say maybe 20 statues, 25."

The statues include restoring one for 90-year-old Sarah Notarianni of Scranton, who broke the fingers on the left hand of a baby Jesus when she arrived in Scranton from Italy 75 years ago.

"I always say that the statues come to me when I need them," Restuccia said. "I had a woman whose mother had made in the '70s ... molded ceramic pieces. And when they moved, one of them was shattered. So she brought me all the pieces. And it went together. And I put it all back together. And she cried. I mean, a lot of times these things are very emotional for people."

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bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9147;

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