When St. Raphael Catholic School started using the space near the entrance of the old church for a band room, some of the pews had to go.
Parishioner Don Mattick saw an opportunity. Don’t discard those pews, he said. He had plans for them. He saw possibilities for that fine old walnut wood.
Don and parishioner Tony d’Abramo have created beautiful handmade memorial crucifixes from the old wood. The second batch of them is now being prepared and is available at the parish gift shop.
Each piece is hand sanded and individually custom fitted. The handcrafted items are not varnished or stained. The natural wood is hand rubbed with linseed oil to bring out the grain and natural color. Each cross is branded with the initials of the church burned into the wood at the base.
There are three sizes, 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch, and metal and resin corpora from which to choose. They can be made to hang on a wall or be freestanding with a small block pedestal. Prices range from $20 to $32.
Although the material has been cut and prepared the crucifixes have not all been constructed yet. They will be completed when orders are placed for them.
Don (far left) and Tony started working together a couple of years ago after Tony retired. Their first project was to build choir robe cabinets in the hallway between Meeting Room A and the church. Since then they’ve tackled other projects around the parish. Over time, Don has been instrumental in acquiring woodworking equipment he and Tony now use. Not long ago Don bought nearly a whole workshop of equipment from the Missionaries of Africa retirement home on Seventh Avenue near the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.
In addition to the crucifixes, there are several small tables in the church constructed from wood of the old pews.
Crucifixes are not only for sale at the gift shop but some have been created for a special purpose. Ten crucifixes are hung throughout the parish campus, including the priests’ rooms, the sacristan and altar servers rooms, and meeting rooms A and B.
This is actually the third batch of handmade crucifixes for St. Raphael. The first was created from scrap wood from building the beams in the new church in late 2005. There were 59 crucifixes in that edition. Then, in 2007, there were 98 in the first batch using wood from the old pews. This third edition will include 44 crucifixes.
Not all the pews will be used for the crucifix project. Some were sold to parishioners and others who wanted a unique furniture piece for their home. There are pews still available. Longer ones are $300. Shorter ones are $200.
Don and Tony extend an invitation to anyone who wants to help with the various parish building projects. Recently the two have been putting windows into doors in the church office to make it easy to see if the priests have visitors without disturbing them.
Don suggests that young parishioners who have a desire to do woodworking but don’t have the experience and skills needed would be particularly welcome. He’s happy to pass on his knowledge. Don recalls being taught woodworking by a master carpenter so showed him how to do a task then made him do it.
“I’d love to pass some of that on,” Don says.
Photos by Jane Winstead