University Worker Crafts a "New" Crucifix

October 23, 2008

When Saint Jude Chapel was opened last year as part of the larger Student Community Center complex, students, visitors, faculty and staff were happy to have a peaceful sanctuary in the center of the main campus for quiet reflection, and for celebrations of Mass for small gatherings.

And yet, the chapel wasn’t truly complete until the recent installation of a specially crafted crucifix. The artwork has attracted attention not only for its beauty and symbolism, but also for its intriguing history.

"It came out of a chapel, and it went back into a chapel," explained Rob Garland, a trained mason and builder who works for the university’s plant operations department.

Actually, that’s just the start of the story of how Garland created the stunning, four-foot high crucifix we see today. The project began when Father Stephan Brown, director of University Ministry, asked the plant operations staff if they could help him locate a crucifix for the chapel.

First Brown and Garland found the Christ figure, a piece that had been made in Italy and carved from wood. The university had previously displayed the figure in the chapel of the former MacDonald Center, and had placed the work in storage for safekeeping when the old student center was razed. The figure, with proper display, would be the right size for the recently constructed Saint Jude Chapel, Garland decided.

Still, there was work to be done to complete an appropriate crucifix: Garland needed to make a cross to bear the body of the Christ figure. He recalled that the plant operations department still had on hand some oak church pews, saved when a Catholic chapel in Pinellas County was displaced years ago. He determined the oak would be a fitting material for the cross.

Only one more element was needed. Jose Caban, Garland’s supervisor and the director of plant operations, directed Garland to incorporate into the work the same dark forest-green granite used atop the altar in Saint Jude Chapel. This would visually match the "new" crucifix to its surroundings.

Garland took the elements to the wood shop and began working away, tending to the crucifix construction for a couple of hours at a time, in between his other assignments. He cut the oak planks to size, laid granite atop the wood, and affixed the Christ figure to the structure.

He puzzled over one detail for awhile – whether to leave the ends of the cross cut as blunt, straight edges, or whether to embellish them somehow. He found the inspiration, he said, in his own mother’s rosary. That crucifix has a cross with rounded edges, and Garland could see in his mind’s eye how he could successfully apply the same design treatment to the larger crucifix.

In late August, Garland and Caban brought the 20-hour project to completion by mounting the crucifix on the recessed wall of Saint Jude Chapel. Father Brown blessed the crucifix during a weekday mass in September, once students were back on campus.

Garland considers his work on the crucifix one of the high points of his 18 years at Saint Leo University. "I’m glad I got to make it," he said.