The church and the original campus for Holy Family Parish Community were finished and dedicated in 1988 thanks to the hard work and great generosity of so many of the founding parishioners. What was missing was the central Cross – a focal point for the church, the altar and the faith community.
Fr. Medard Laz, the founding pastor, felt that because so much of the church was wood: the tresses, the beams, the pews, the altar and the ambo, the Cross should be made of another material. Acrylic always came to mind. It had only been used in artwork for twenty years.
Christ was the Light of the World. Light streamed into the church through the East, West, South and North windows. Light on acrylic would make Jesus and his Cross come alive at Holy Family.
The words of Jesus that captivated Fr. Med for the Cross are found in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all of you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The new Cross would hang over the altar of sacrifice not only for parishioners each weekend, but over couples getting married, grieving families with their departed loved ones lying right below, and families lifting high their new-born babies for baptism. And everyone was coming right here to be fed by Jesus and with the Body of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Fr. Med saw a 3-inch carved head of a sea captain in a gift shop window in 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s detail and emotion captured his attention. He found out that the wood carver lived in California. So he prayed and called Ernest Caballero. He asked if he had done anything in acrylic. He said he had done a large dolphin in acrylic that sits in front of a casino in Reno, Nevada.
Several months later Ernest met with Fr. Med at the Holy Family rectory. Ernest brought many drawings of his concept of the new Cross and Christ hanging on it. They were all a Spanish motif of a bleeding, suffering Jesus.
The two of them spent the whole afternoon and evening reflecting on and discussing the words of Jesus in Matthew 11: 28-30 and how to capture and visualize these words. Jesus is reaching down from the Cross to any and all who come to him. Only a partial body would be shown. It would be Jesus’ left arm and hand reaching out. It would be the left side, since the left side traditionally represents the helping, nurturing, caring and healing side of the body.
They discussed that the Cross itself should not be two crossed beams. Since the art piece would be in acrylic, a free-flowing ice crystal Cross would be an outstanding representation of Christ as the Light of the World.
The all-day meeting ended at 10:00 PM. Ernest went upstairs to bed at the rectory. When he came down the next morning at 10:00 AM, his face was brighter than ever. He opened his sketch book. THERE IT WAS! THE CROSS OF NEW LIFE! The drawing was exactly what hangs in the church today! Ernest with his great talent and artistry captured the divine.
Ernest returned to California and fashioned a 30-inch maquette in order to pour a small-sized acrylic of the new Cross. The Holy Family New Cross Committee loved it. Very minor adjustments were made. He set about making the full-sized mold needed to pour the acrylic.
Meanwhile the Holy Family New Cross Committee worked on the hanging and the suspension of the Cross. The main problem was how top heavy the Cross would be. Almost all of the weight was on the top and up front with the solid Christ-figure. There was no even distribution of weight. How could the Cross not bend forward? And there were only 4 cables to hold up the 2,004 pounds. With help from engineers from the University of Illinois the exact 4 points of internal equilibrium had to be found. With help from above, the 4 points were found. For 25 years Jesus has had an outreached arm and hand, but he has never leaned forward.
Ernest had finished the full-sized mold and it was time to pour the acrylic. By this time Fr. Med Laz had retired as pastor of Holy Family and Fr. Pat Brennan was pastor and ultimately responsible for finishing the Cross of New Life, as he eventually named it. What was needed was an oven large enough for a Cross this size. There was none in the United States, except at Martin Marietta Aircraft in Marietta, Georgia. But with the end of the Cold War, the oven had long been shut down.
When the Holy Family Committee called the company to ask to rent the oven, the General Manager asked: “What do they want to use it for?” “They want to do a Cross!” was the reply. The General Manager shouted out: “A Cross!! We don’t do crosses here. We only do nuclear war heads here!!” God again was very much at work here and in charge.
The General Manager let us pour the acrylic for the Cross. For a week we all prayed and prayed. When the Cross was removed from the mold, the result was not acceptable. A good part of the face and the shoulder were not right and there were other imperfections. The pouring had cost $50,000.00 and subsequent pours would cost as much. And how many more pours could the mold endure before it was useless?
The main concern was with the acrylic mix itself. There was great concern that the mix was not right. Fr. Med was still pastor when visits were made by he and then by the Holy Family Committee to an acrylic maker in California. He showed us large acrylic pieces, but they weighed no more than 100 pounds each. He assured us that by using his secret formula mix the acrylic after baking would result in a perfect piece of art. He also assured us that with his secret formula mix the Cross would never turn yellow with the passage of time even with all the sunlight beating down on it.
Both Fr. Med and the Committee had mixed feelings about the California acrylic maker. We were not sure if he could be believed and trusted. What he wanted to charge us for his secret formula mix was very reasonable. After the failure of the first pour, the Committee and Fr. Brennan decided to give his formula a try. With the second pour it was decided to turn the mold over for the pour, to have Jesus facing in the opposite direction. The second pour was made and all were on their knees for a week praying.
When the mold was removed everyone was so happy, they cried. The Cross of New Life was PERFECT!! The man in California had gotten us the right formula for the pour. And with 25 years of the sun shining down upon it, the Cross has not yellowed one bit. And the University of Illinois engineers had found the exact internal equilibrium points. The Cross has held and Jesus has never leaned forward in 25 years. The Holy Family Cross Committee worked hard and prayed even harder. The Cross of New Life would not be hanging there without them.
Once out of the oven, the Cross moved to Mario Noto’s studio under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Mario spent months polishing every part of the Cross – the body of Jesus and the Cross itself so that the Cross itself would look like a Swarovski ice crystal.
Fr. Med visited Mario at his studio under the Brooklyn Bridge. The Noto Family had been doing art work in Italy in a variety of mediums for hundreds of years. Along with the large Cross Mario Noto was making and finishing dozens of smaller 33-inch crosses that would be sold.
Even though the final cost of the Cross of New Life would be over $800,000.00, it wound up costing the parish nothing! The sale of the 33-inch crosses brought in over $1 million. Fr. Brennan was not only able to pay off all of the expenses of the new Cross of New Life, he was also able to make sizable donations to various charities. Fr. Pat did great work on the project.
Mario finished his work and the Cross was put on a flatbed truck heading for Chicago and Holy Family. “Not so fast!” said the police in New York. “Where’s your permit to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with a flatbed truck, Cross or no Cross!” A fine was paid, a permit was gotten and the Cross of New Life was heading for Chicago 25 years ago to find a new home and to begin a new life. The wonderful finishing touches of Mario Noto were now completed.
At the church, a large evergreen tree was removed and the windows and doors on one side of the church were removed. Once the Cross arrived it was carefully brought inside and the four cables were installed and it was lifted high for all to see…More especially for Jesus to SEE US as we come to him again and again, listening as Jesus says to us:
“Come to me, all of you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy , and my burden is light.”
HAPPY 25TH ANNIVERSARY,
CROSS OF NEW LIFE!!
Submitted by Fr. Med Laz