As practicing Catholics, we observe examples of God’s miraculous works, including His help, love and inspiration, in our daily lives.
God also helps skilled artisans with creative works of art.
Retired Deacon Fred Weisel has produced a beautiful example of God’s love in action by helping him transform solid wood into a life-size crucifix.
The crucifix was hand-carved — or more accurately, fabricated and carved by hand.
Deacon Weisel explained that he “... had been thinking about doing the project for some time.”
He says he was inspired by the Lord to start the project.
“Finally I began in September of 2012 and completed it in August of 2013,” he said.
The total time spent on this project was 11 months of carving and about 900 total hours.
He worked two to three hours per day.
Deacon Weisel is a master woodcarver. His home is filled with renderings of a variety of wildlife — raccoons, owls and other creatures.
Of course, there are other smaller crucifixes and a beautiful head sculpture of Jesus and one of Mary as well.
Strength in weakness
Ordained a permanent deacon of the Jefferson City diocese in 1987, Deacon Weisel assisted the pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish for 10 years before retiring from active ministry.
He then served in various roles at St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia through 2009.
Deacon Weisel has arthritis and now uses a cane or walker to get around.
The arthritis’s effect on his hands makes woodcarving very challenging, which makes the life-size crucifix all the more amazing.
The crucifix is not carved from a single solid piece of wood, but rather is a combination of assembled wood — mostly hollow boxes, which were then carved to make the arms, legs torso and pelvic area.
Deacon Weisel had an idea about what lumber he wanted to use but only a vague idea about how to assemble it.
The head was the essential starting point because, as he said, “If the face didn’t look presentable, the rest would be in vain.”
The head and crown of thorns were carved separately from the same log and later joined together.
It came from a pine tree in the Weisels’ yard that died and had to be cut down. He dried it for a while before using part of the trunk.
Then he went to the torso, building it hollow and to the appropriate size to match the head.
His “secret” was to use his own dimensions as a model for the torso.
He formed the middle section from 2-by-6 lumber, using glue and dowel rods to connect the pieces.
Then the muscles and ribs were shaped using a Dremel tool. The head was attached to the torso, with the face looking down.
Forming the pelvis required some assistance.
“I couldn’t figure it out in my mind, so I prayed about it and went to bed,” said Deacon Weisel. “The next morning, I had the answer, which was proof that God is good, as He worked with me throughout the whole project.”
The hollow torso and pelvis came together, again connected with glue and dowel rods.
There were five wood screws used in the entire crucifix: two to attach the feet to the cross, one to attach the head, and two to attach the pelvis to the legs.
Deacon Weisel said working on the crucifix was like being on a retreat.
“He gave me the answers on ‘how to’s,’” he said. “As I worked, the shape bloomed out of the wood. I felt like God must have felt during creation.”
The arms were made from white pine 2-by-6s and again glued together using dowel rods.
After the arms and hands were shaped using the Dremel tool, he found that the legs and feet were going to be “a little tricky.”
He realized that getting the correct angles in the ankles, knees and thighs that would be found during crucification was not going to be easy.
But it all started to come together as the upper legs were attached to the hollow pelvis.
After he finished fashioning white pine into legs and feet, it was time to assemble all the pieces.
“The end was near but I found the hardest part was to come,” he recalled. “Putting the nail in His hands and feet, it was devastating. But the finished product was worth it.”
Under the weight
Consistent with the “hollow” concept of the rest of the project, Deacon Weisel built the cross in the shape of a hollow box, using 1-by-6 and 1-by-8 lumber to save on weight.
A solid cross, of course, would have been much heavier.
The entire crucifix weighs 135 pounds.
Deacon Weisel knows that because he weighed each piece before it was assembled and carved.
Also, he saved the sawdust and mixed it with wood glue to fill any cracks in the wood.
He used no stain or wood sealer on the crucifix. Instead, he painted both the corpus and the cross with ordinary latex paint, tan in color, which was mixed at a local hardware store.
The cross measures 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The corpus is approximately 6 feet tall.
It is truly a life-sized crucifix and is truly a beautiful work of art.
It is also an inspiration to students, staff and worshipers at the Newman Center, where it adorns the second-floor landing near the student entrance.
Those who walk past it are reminded of the tremendous price Christ paid for our salvation.
As the deacon observed, “God IS good!”