Cross to bear

Woodworking lends new life to old St. Patrick Catholic Church pews

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IOWA CITY – It was three years ago that a friend asked Darrell Flinn if he’d want to buy “a bunch of oak.”

The oak he was referring to was actually a pew from St. Patrick Catholic Church. The church was destroyed by a tornado on April 13, 2006.

Flinn’s friend was the site manager at the new church, which opened in late 2009.

“For all my work, I mostly use wood that has had another life,” Flinn says. “I love learning the back story; it makes my work more fun.”

Yet he turned his friend down – at first.

“I said no, but then three days later, I decided to take a look,” Flinn says.

He ended up buying four pews.

Each pew is 18 feet long. Flinn had to cut each in half to get it home and into his workshop. From there, he used the wood to make cutting boards, bird houses and other items to sell at the Sycamore Mall Farmers Market. However, it was a gift his wife, Linda, received from a patient that inspired a new project.

“My wife is a nurse at Mercy Iowa City and she received a wooden cross from a patient,” Flinn says. “I liked the feel of it.”

Using the cross as a pattern, Flinn made his own crosses from the St. Patrick pews, not knowing the project would be met with such enthusiasm – and not only from the Farmers Market crowd.

The St. Patrick Catholic Church youth group bought roughly 100 crosses which they then sold to parishioners as a fundraiser.

Flinn sold several crosses at Mercy Iowa City’s annual craft fair and had several for sale at Merci, a short-term pop up store that is a partnership between Catherine's Boutique and Revival.

Woodworking has always been Flinn’s hobby, although he didn’t always have the time or the money to give to it when his children were young. Now retired, Flinn spends as much time as he wants in his workshop, although he never imagined such a simple idea would garner such reaction from the community.

“We’ve had a great response,” says Catherine Champion, owner of Catherine's Boutique. “People have a connection to them.”

“People like having some part of the old church with them,” Flinn adds. “Every once in a while, I’ll have a call from somebody who tells me they already bought one cross, but now they want more.”

One woman even asked for one cross for each of her 16 grandchildren.

“That was pretty neat,” Flinn says.

Flinn makes at least 10 crosses at once in his own version of mass production. Each cross, he says, takes seven steps from start to finish. Flinn also includes a card with the history of the wood with each cross.

“I’ve had guys say ‘My butt’s been on that pew, I bet,’” Flinn says with a laugh.

Now that’s oak with a story.


Contact Darrell's Wood Shop:


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