Easter Bunny Given a Home

April 22, 2001
Craig S. Semon
Worcester Telegram

Fans of "The First Easter Bunny'' hopped down the bunny trail Saturday, April 14, at a sculpture unveiling and inaugural celebration in honor of the "First Easter Bunny Day in Massachusetts.''

You didn't need to wear an Easter bonnet to appreciate this Easter Parade, which took place at the Hammond Building, Fitchburg State College. The egg-studded, jelly beans-filled event was a basketful of Easter joy that featured local dignitaries hippity hoppin' to the soiree including Mayor Mary H. Whitney, FSC president Michael P. Riccards and the man who made Fitchburg a bunny of a place to live in, the Rev. Richard P. Lewandowski.

Rev. Lewandowski is pastor at St. Camillus Parish and chaplain at FSC's Newman Center. Commonly known as "Father Rich,'' Rev. Lewandowski is the author of "The First Easter Bunny.''

Rev. Lewandowski said he sees Easter as a time of new life, new beginnings and new hopes. In Fitchburg, the official home of "The First Easter Bunny,'' he said sees all those things happening.

"I love Fitchburg so much. There are just so many wonderful things that are taking place here,'' Rev. Lewandowski said. "I think and I hope that "The First Easter Bunny'' will be kind of like the story of Fitchburg, too. There will be new hopes and new life.''

An active participant in the Fitchburg community 19 years, jump Rev. Lewandowski said he feels that this event shows how the people of Fitchburg support, encourage and enjoy goodness in their community.

The seeds of the self-published book grew from a brief story Rev. Lewandowski told youngsters during Easter Mass in 1993 and blossomed into a children's classic.

Illustrated by Anne Schaper Engot, "The First Easter Bunny'' features the title character telling the story of Jesus and being the first creature to see Jesus rise from his tomb. Seeing the small inquisitive creature, Jesus gives a command, a ministry of vocation, to the little bunny. Hence, the first Easter bunny was born.

"The vocation of the little bunny is to make people happy by sharing the joy of Easter by the way of Easter eggs and candy,'' Rev. Lewandowski said. "So when adults enjoy the true significance of Easter, the children will also be enjoying Easter.''

While the bunny in the story remains nameless, it has captured the imagination of many.

In January 1996, the first printing of 5,000 copies sold out and 10,000 addition copies were printed in March. Last Easter, a hard-bound edition by Ambassador Books of Worcester exceeded a circulation of 50,000 volumes.

Since its publication, Rev. Lewandowski said he has seen his ministry expand and credits the book's success as a major factor. He even hand-delivered a copy of "The First Easter Bunny'' to the Pope during a recent visit.

While he estimates that he has read "The First Easter Bunny'' a "zillion times,'' Rev. Lewandowski said he never gets tired of it. He called the creative process "mysterious'' and "miraculous'' and compares the accomplishment to what he would imagine it would be like for a parent having their first child.

Rev. Lewandowski said cherishes the enthusiasm and cooperation of the community and what he called the various communities within the community to make Fitchburg the official residence of "The First Easter Bunny.''

It all started last year when Mayor Whitney proclaimed Fitchburg as the official residence for "The First Easter Bunny'' during an Easter egg hunt at Fitchburg State College.

In June, Mayor Whitney and Mr. Riccards secured a proclamation by Gov. A. Paul Cellucci declaring "The First Easter Bunny Day in Massachusetts'' will be observed each year on the Monday following Easter Sunday.

Working with Norman J. Boudreau, president of I-C Federal Credit Union, Mr. Riccards proposed a locally fashioned and produced sculpture.

Instead of a hollow milk-chocolate bunny, Darrell A. Goodall, head of the welding and metal fabrications shop at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, along with coworkers and students, designed and built a stainless steel and brass sculpture depicted the beloved title character from Father Rich's book. The statue is housed in the Rogers building at Main and Blossom streets.

Monty Tech instructors who participated in the project are Richard Gould, welding and metal fabrications shop; George Tignor, drafting technology; Thomas Kamila, home carpentry; Raymond Mahon, cabinet making; and Michael Hurley, machine shop.

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