Dave DeFinis pulled up to his Upper Holmesburg auto body shop one day last week, and what he didn't see took his breath away: His guardian angel was gone.
"She sat there for 22 years," DeFinis, 57, said Monday night. "I put her there to bless the garage the day I moved in."
A garden statue of the Virgin Mary perched atop a landscaped corner of the shop's asphalt plot had been stolen.
This week marks the first time she hasn't watched over the place since DeFinis moved David DeFinis Auto Body & Collision from Wingate Street, where he toiled for 13 years, to a roomier location on the neighborhood's prime business corridor, at 8501 Frankford Ave. The new spot also came with a related across-the-street neighbor: St. Dominic's Catholic Church.
When he first put the statue in the ground, he added a bag of quick-set concrete — an act intended to prevent a theft.
"And somebody still dug her up," he said.
When he realized the statue had been stolen, he stuck a cardboard sign in the dirt and took a photo that he posted on his shop's Facebook page.
"More or less to embarrass the person who took it," he said. "I mean, come on. We're right on Frankford Avenue. Right across the street from the church.
"I just can't understand why somebody would do something like that," he added.
DeFinis, a Northeast Philadelphia native, did not have video cameras outside the shop and doesn't have any hot leads.
Every snowstorm since he opened the garage, Definis would shovel out the parking lot and pile the snow on top of the statue.
"And then I'd dig her out and make, like, an igloo and put a candle in there," he said. "It looked like a shrine."
Wednesday will be the shop's first snowstorm without its guardian angel.
He's gotten calls from people who want to replace it, but has declined.