Sep 29, 2014
12:38 PMConnecticut Today
Holy Land’s Waterbury Resurrection: Hollywood Style Sign Visible for First Time in Decades
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When Greco began building Holy Land in the 1950s not everyone understood his vision for the property. Fitzpatrick, 62, grew up near Pine Hill and played on the property before Holy Land was built. He and other neighborhood kids were not happy when Greco began encroaching on their stomping ground.
(Photo at left courtesy of Holy Land Waterbury)
“I was not very impressed with it as a kid,” recalls Fitzpatrick. “It meant nothing to me. I was more upset with Mr. Greco for building it. As he added on he took away our playground. He added roads, he cut trees that limited our tree fort building, we skated on Ducks Pond, he turned it into the Dead Sea.”
Over the years Fitzpatrick's opinion would change and he would develop a passion for Holy Land and deep respect for the devout man who built it.
“He was the meekest and mildest man I have ever known,” says Fitzpatrick, who was an alter boy at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury, where Greco was a congregant. “A man of very few words. He was very religious. He was one of those who sat in church and was so intense in prayer you would swear he was talking to God. He loved scripture, that is apparent when you walk around Holy Land. [Passages] are carved in every nook and cranny. What he was worked for him. Not many people could say no to him.”
After deciding to give it one more shot while standing on the hill at Holy Land last June, O’Leary enlisted the help of friend Fred “Fritz” Blasius, a successful local car dealer. Together O’Leary and Blasius arranged a meeting with the nuns and convinced them to lower their asking price to $350,000. The pair then formed a nonprofit organization, Holy Land of Waterbury, and began raising funds to buy the property.
(Photo of Holy Land Arch at left courtesy of Damned Connecticut)
As word spread about their efforts donations began pouring in.
“It was just incredible,” recalls Jennifer Rose, who is a member of the nonprofit Blasius and O’Leary formed. “There was a $100,000 donor.”
She adds, “The cross signifies home for a lot of people.”
Pisani Steel Inc. donated 52-foot-tall, internally-lit steel cross for the effort. The Naugatuck based company’s president, Joe Pisani, grew up near Holy Land and Greco helped his father, an Italian immigrant, legally settle in America after he had married Pisani’s mother.
“This is my way of giving back, at least one more time," Pisani told the Republican-American in November.
And what a gift to the city it is. This cross is bigger than any previously erected on the site. It stands on a seven-foot-high pedestal and has a wingspan of 26 feet. Roughly 4,500 LED lights can illuminate the cross in different colors including red, blue, green and pink. In December it was lit for the first time in front of more than 1,000 people who gathered at a bridge over Interstate 84 and on Elm Street facing Pine Hill.
The next step in Holy Land’s restoration is to do some select tree clearing at the site to make it safe for visitors. The park could be open to the public again as soon as late fall, after that work within the park. There is also talk of possibly restoring and relighting the Holy Land U.S.A. sign (reminiscent of the famous Hollywood sign, the Holy Land sign used to light up and was visible from miles around, but it is currently obscured by trees).
Though the site will remain unapologetically Catholic, efforts to restore the property have been supported by other sects of Christianity as well as members of Waterbury’s Jewish community and the city’s large Muslim community.
“The Muslim community actually supported the fundraising efforts for the cross; the Albanian community ran two fund-raisers for Holy Land,” which raised several thousand dollars O’Leary says. “They recognize that although we may come from different backgrounds we’re a united community.”
He adds having so many people support the project and come to see the cross lighting in December was an experience like no other.
“It was amazing. Everybody was celebrating a little bit of pride and hope in their hometown. It was probably the most touching thing I’ve been a part of and I’ve been in public service for 35 years of my life.”