By Lindsay Powers, Frederick News-Post; firstname.lastname@example.org; Mar 11, 2016
For John Danko, the call last year from the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was both out of the blue and providential.
Staff at the shrine were looking for someone to make a copy of an original iron key that Seton had used for her Stone House in Emmitsburg, which is on the grounds of the National Shrine. Though the manufacturer didn’t know it at the time, the key would be given away soon by President Barack Obama to someone important — Pope Francis, to be precise. Danko, president of Danko Arlington, said his manufacturing company in Baltimore took on the project, creating a virtual replica of the historic key, with every scratch and dimple recorded. From that digital copy, a polycarbonate plastic copy was created using a 3-D printer.
On March 1, Danko Arlington went a step further. In a final stage of a complex process, the company used sand molds to create 30 silicon bronze copies of Seton’s key. Those keys, free of charge to the Shrine, will be placed in exhibits and used for gifts. Danko is a third-generation foundryman, or someone who casts metals. His company’s work includes custom castings and often involves creating parts for the military or Fortune 500 companies. The request was of particular interest to Danko because of his and his family’s connection to it and the area’s Catholic community. Danko attended seminary at Mount St. Mary’s University nearby.
“We know the Shrine very well as a family,” he said. Those at the Shrine may not have known about his connection, but he thinks God “likes to pick good suppliers that can perform under pressure.” Rob Judge, executive director at the Shrine, said when the U.S. Department of State confirmed with the Shrine that it wanted to use the key as a gift for the pope, staff at the Shrine had about a day to see if it could make a copy.
As Judge put it, Danko bumped into their lives. Judge’s assistant found Danko Arlington through an Internet search and the company’s assistance — within a roughly 24-hour period — allowed the organization to have a copy that could be replicated. It was also a real blessing to have an exact copy of the key presented to the pope, Judge said. A second, slightly different original key to the house, is also at the Shrine.
The key that was given away “has a lot of rich symbolism,” he said, as both an intimate and an ordinary object. “That’s the kind of life she led, a very ordinary life in one way,” Judge said. But the way she lived her life became something extraordinary, particularly in how she cared for poor children and followed God’s will, he added.
Among her accomplishments, Seton founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s and started the St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School for girls, according to the Shrine’s website. In 1975, she became the first person born in the U.S. to be canonized as a saint.
Sister Dinah White said it was inspiring to watch the metal being poured into the molds to create the keys, a method with thousands of years of history. White is a member of the Daughters of Charity and serves as mission leader for the Emmitsburg campus that includes the Shrine.
She and others from the Shrine were given a tour of the company March 1 that included some history of Danko’s family’s work and some of the steps taken to make the replicas possible, including the 3-D printer. “It was just totally remarkable,” she said. “And then to watch the men pour the keys, I was so in awe!” White, who moved to Emmitsburg about a year ago, said the keys will become meaningful gifts that can help people recognize the good from God in their lives.
“To see anything that gives us the opportunity to share that heritage with others and hopefully give them confirmation in what their doing is a blessed honor,” she said.
White said she was also impressed with Danko’s “Christian spirit that just shone through.”
“He was just very gracious to show us the whole process and spend time with us,” Judge added.
Follow Lindsay Powers on Twitter: @linds_powers.