During lunch two weeks ago Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary was bursting with a secret that he simply could not contain any longer. O'Leary was having lunch at Paisano's Restaurant with Observer Publisher John Murray and he finally blurted out, "I can't keep this in any longer," he said. "Fritz Blasius and I are buying Holy Land and we're going to restore it."
O'Leary said he had gone for a solo walk up to Holy Land in May, and the idea of buying Holy Land overwhelmed him. He tried calling the nuns who owned the property, the Pontifical Institute for the Religious Teachers Fillipini of Morristown, N.J., but they wouldn't return his call. So O'Leary reached out to Archbishop Henry Mansell who helped facilitate communication with the nuns.
Partnering with car dealer Fritz Blasius, who O'Leary described as a devout Catholic, helped provide the capital to negotiate with the nuns, and the two men went down to New Jersey three weeks ago to offer $350,000, which the nuns accepted. The 17-acre parcel of land that sits on a rocky hill in the center of Waterbury was home to a religious theme park for decades.
Blasius and O'Leary have formed a non-profit, Holy Land Waterbury, U.S.A., to riase the $350,000 to close the deal in the Autumn. They will be seeking private sponsors to make the deal happen.
O'Leary said he envisions cleaning up the property, placing a more prominent cross atop the hill, restoring remanants of the decaying replica of Holy Land, and offering pieces of the land to various ethnic groups to create their own Christian shrines.
"I got the idea of the ethnic shrines after The Gathering on May 18th," O'Leary said. "It can be a place for all Christians to celebrate their faith. I am extremely excited."