The newly restored Stations of the Cross in St. Joseph Church in Palmyra combine the radiance of Jesus’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor with vivid depictions of His suffering while carrying His cross and being crucified on Mount Calvary.
Dating from 1945, Palmyra’s 14 statuesque Stations were recently restored, beautified and reinstalled in the church in time to meditate on the Way of the Cross on Ash Wednesday, throughout Lent and throughout the year.
“Christ is divine by nature,” Father Matthew Flatley, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Palmyra and of Holy Family Parish in Hannibal, noted, “and we can share in a taste of His divinity by our participation into His experience and a desire to surrender to the exquisite mystery being given us, this grace being made manifest.”
The St. Joseph Parish Altar Society organized the restoration of the Stations, with parishioners sponsoring individual stations from 1 through 13, and many parishioners contributing to the restoration of the 14th, “Jesus is Laid to Rest in the Tomb.”
“They were definitely brought to life with this repainting!” the curator of the parish’s Facebook page proclaimed on Feb. 28, when the Stations were reinstalled in church.
Lent began two days later.
Brenda Wasser, a third-generation church artist, oversaw the restoration in the studio of Autenrieb Murals & Statue Restoration in Edwardsville, Illinois.
“We cleaned them and repaired a few broken fingers and gouges in the plaster,” said Ms. Wasser. “We painted a variety of base-flat color onto each station and used an airbrush to shade the various colors. The details of all the faces are done by hand.”
The final touch was the trimming of the robes of Jesus and Mary in 23-karat gold — hinting at Jesus’s eternal glory even in the depths of His physical suffering and self-sacrifice.
In loving memory
Generations of St. Joseph parishioners have used this set of statuesque Stations to deepen their annual observance of Lent and meditate on the wondrous love and holy obedience that moved Jesus to give His life in order to save humanity.
For the faithful, the Stations of the Cross always point toward the Resurrection and the final victory over death.
Franciscan Father Thomas Rust, who was rector of St. Francis Solanus Church in Quincy, Illinois, originally blessed these Stations the afternoon of Feb. 11, 1945, followed by the praying of the Way of the Cross, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and Benediction.
Lent began on Feb. 14 that year, the final year of World War II.
“The Stations are the gift of the Carroll family and were presented to St. Joseph church in memory of their parents, Thomas and Margaret Carroll, and Harry Carroll, who died a year ago,” stated a front-page article in the Feb. 7, 1945, edition of the Palmyra Spectator newspaper.
Longtime St. Joseph parishioner Jeff Buckman recently shared childhood memories of two brothers with the last name Carroll coming to Mass each Sunday and sitting in the back of church.
He believes their names were Leo and Joseph. Both are now at rest in St. Joseph Cemetery, as are Thomas and Margaret, who died in 1931, and other members of the family.
“Part of our faith”
Autenrieb previously repainted Nativity scene as well as the crucifix and three large statues in St. Joseph Church.
Ms. Wasser said her company had restored “quite a few” Stations of the Cross sets like the one in Palmyra.
“They all usually have fairly similar figures but not always exact,” she noted. “The bases for this set are unique — we have never encountered this style before.”
She is convinced that at some point, the figure of Christ in the 12th Station, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” was broken and replaced with a smaller figure.
The spears held by the images of the guards are also not original.
“Other than that, the set was in fairly good condition,” she noted.
The Altar Society announced the restoration project in early May of 2021. The society sponsored one of the Stations, and parishioners were invited to contribute whatever they could for the last one.
Sponsors for all of them stepped forward within a week.
“It was an honor to be able to help with the restoration of the Stations,” one of the sponsors recently stated. “They are so much a part of our faith tradition as well as a part of our individual faith journeys.
“Being able to provide assistance so others may use them as a part of their spiritual walk with Christ is part of our faith as well,” the sponsor stated.
“No end to understanding”
Fr. Flatley recently spoke to parishioners about the beautiful and sacred Catholic tradition of “Walking the Stations of the Cross” throughout Lent.
He reflected on this immersion into the experience of the “Via Dolorosa” — the Way of Grief.
“Can we ponder both the physical and spiritual meaning of this?” the priest asked.
“Jesus Christ … fully human, fully divine — this is an article of faith,” he noted. “To believe this, we must move beyond the rational mind and surrender into the mystery of Christ.”
He pointed to a passage from Luke 9, proclaimed at Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent this year.
“We heard the extraordinary Good News about the Transfiguration, when the Divine nature of Christ shone through His human nature,” the Fr. Flatley noted. “This helps us to believe.”
Pondering the excruciating human experience of the suffering Christ freely accepted therefore challenges the faithful also to consider the spiritual meanings of His Way of the Cross.
“Here, the Covenant — both old and new — is coming to fulfillment,” said Fr. Flatley. “We try to understand the human suffering, and we must also try to understand the unveiling of divine love being revealed.
“Then we are called to ponder the centuries of theological reflection, seeking to understand ever more deeply,” he said.
He challenged everyone to keep in mind: “Mystery does not mean that we cannot understand something, it means there is no end to the understanding.”
Preservation and beautification of the lofty Gothic Revial, 1899-vintage St. Joseph Church continues this Lent, with the installation of new front doors, also spearheaded by the Altar Society.