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St. Ludmila celebrates Good Friday, Easter with crucifix from derecho
Crucifix from reclaimed wood brings special meaning to Cedar Rapids church that has gone without one for years
CEDAR RAPIDS — This weekend, St. Ludmila Catholic Church celebrates Good Friday and Easter with a symbol of death and resurrection more visible than they’ve had in 20 years.
The new crucifix, 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, is more than a visual image synonymous with the Catholic faith. In light of St. Ludmila’s history, it’s a reflection of the church’s past built by Czech immigrants and its journey through the derecho in 2020.
“Something was missing. I can’t think of another church I’ve been a member of that did not have a crucifix,” said Dan Martinek, a parishioner at St. Ludmila for 21 years and member of the committee that finally helped bring the crucifix to fruition. “This is a remembrance as well as a significant worship item for our parish.”
With a corpus made of Linden wood fashioned overseas and a cross made of a pin oak from St. Ludmila’s property felled by the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, the crucifix reflects artistic choices and elements that incorporate where St. Ludmila has come from and what it has been through with a nod to hope for the future.
St. Ludmila, established in 1914 by five Notre Dame nuns from what was then Czechoslovakia, began as a school in an old frame house. Later, Mass was held. Centered in the area where most of the city’s Czech immigrants first settled, it wasn’t long before it was too small to hold everyone who wanted to attend Mass.
In 2001, the church moved to its current address at 211 21st Ave. SW, but the crucifix it used for nearly a century did not come with it. The scale of the crucifix was too small for the larger sanctuary.
Though the architect designed a crucifix for the building, the church decided not to overextend itself over 20 years ago, according to Father Ken Glaser, St. Ludmila parish priest.
In a forward-thinking church focused on social justice efforts, he said the new crucifix is a reflection of resilience.
“For a lot of the people, it’s a finishing touch on the church,” he said. “Most Catholic churches have a crucifix in them — it brought that closure … but also a new beginning.”
Planning and commissioning of the work started in 2018. The crucifix was installed in September 2021, on the 1,100th anniversary of the death of the church’s namesake, Saint Ludmila, and the church’s 20th anniversary in its current home.
“It’s been 20 years in the making,” said Glaser, who headed up the effort sometime after starting at the church six years ago. “Little did we know there’d be a derecho in the middle of it.”
The corpus on the cross is made of Linden wood, a type native to and prominent in the Czech Republic, which was hand-carved in Italy.
“Many farmsteads (in the Czech Republic) will have one or two alongside their entrance,” said Martinek. “It suggests good luck to have one.”
The cross, made of the pin oak tree from the church’s property, was collected after the derecho, processed at a sawmill and kiln dried for construction. Oak had been selected for the cross material even before the derecho — the storm just provided a more meaningful source for the lumber.
With some disagreement on whether to choose a traditional or modern interpretation in the design stages, the church went with a traditional interpretation of the cross with one compromise — Jesus is looking upward, still alive on the cross. The crucifix depicts the moment in Scripture when Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Against the sanctuary’s large window, parishioner Dick Manning said it conveys a message of hope and redemption, with the light delivering symbolic interpretation.
“It’s striking when you come and see it,” said Manning, a discussion group leader and parishioner for nearly 50 years. “I marvel at it.”
He believes that the church going without a crucifix so long made them realize why it means so much.
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