Lifting high the cross

Published in The Leaven (April 17), click to enlarge By Heather Nelson Screenshot 2015-04-23 09.38.37

Text:

Chip. Chip-chip. Chip.

Bob Cunningham is chipping away at a thick tree branch to create a notch. Once finished, he places another branch perpendicular to the first, to form a cross.

Cunningham smiles.

And his smile says it all.

As Cunningham peers through his round glasses at the creation he holds in his rough hands, it doesn’t look like much. But it means a lot to him.

Cunningham, an almost 90-year-old resident at Claridge Court in Prairie Village, creates crucifixes out of fallen tree branches.

His first creation hangs in the entryway of his home.

“It’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit telling me what to do,” Cunningham said with a smile inching across his face.

Ten at a time, Cunningham pieces each cross together, places it on a base, and glues the crucified Christ onto the cross. Two of his most important tools are invisible to the casual observer: time and patience.

Before the Holy Spirit directed him to take up this new project, Cunningham repaired rosaries for parishes around the area. He racks up near one thousand miles each month driving around to pick up and drop off repaired rosaries, he said.

“When I started making [and repairing] rosaries, I felt there was something missing,” Cunningham said.

But on a walk one day, Cunningham spotted a Corpus lying in the grass. He credits the Holy Spirit with the inspiration to take it with him, craft a cross for the misplaced Jesus and launch his crucifix ministry. He’s shared his gift with those in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Christ Renews His Parish retreats. Cunningham also carries crucifixes in his car.

“Just in case I see someone who I think might enjoy one,” Cunningham said.

His joy is contagious.

Rob Salierno, executive director at Claridge Court, has known Cunningham for 10 years.

“Mr. Cunningham is always helping people,” Salierno said. “He has a lot of passion — people follow his lead.”

Cunningham begins his day with scripture and daily mass at Cure of Ars, where he is a member of the parish. Cunningham is in tune with the Holy Spirit, who he trusts to work through him.

“Everyone tries to explain what love is, but if you really believe in God, he loves everybody,” Cunningham said. “Why should I resist that?”

Through service and his smile, Cunningham does just that — he loves.

Salierno said that Cunningham is dedicated to bringing forth religion through the Catholic faith.

“His mission never stops — even over 80,” Salierno said. “He’s leading the way in a Christ-like manner.”

Cunningham crucifixes are carefully packaged in small gift bags that include a number of pamphlets. These pamphlets include information about the Holy Spirit, prayer cards and a rosary booklet. Cunningham puts these together as well.

He reveres the rosary. In his pamphlet he includes four new meditations, which he said are important things for the laity to pray for.

“We really need those ‘Hail Marys,’” Cunningham said. “These are really powerful prayers.”

Salierno said that Cunningham is always looking for ways that he can serve others. His family often joins him for dinners at Claridge Court.

“Their laughter — it’s apparent the love they all share,” observed Salierno.

Catherine Solie, the wellness director at Claridge Court, said she interacts with Cunningham often. She describes him as very giving, but it’s his personality that attracts many.

“He really lives life to the fullest,” Solie said. “It’s his sense of humor — people really enjoy him.”

But Cunningham isn’t searching for recognition or praise. He just patiently waits for the Holy Spirit to guide him.

“I don’t know what my next project will be, but whatever it is the Holy Spirit will tell me what to do,” Cunningham said.

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