Lifting high the cross

Bob Cunningham displays one of the first crucifixes he crafted, which he keeps in his home. He said the Holy Spirit guided him to create the crucifixes to share with people that he meets.
Bob Cunningham displays one of the first crucifixes he crafted, which he keeps in his home. He said the Holy Spirit guided him to create the crucifixes to share with people that he meets. Photo by Heather Nelson.

by Heather Nelson

PRAIRIE VILLAGE — 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 the world 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,” said Cunningham, with a smile spreading 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 this new project, Cunningham repaired rosaries for parishes around the area. He racked up nearly 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 the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program 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 Curé of Ars Church in Leawood, 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’s crucifixes are carefully packaged in small gift bags that include a number of pamphlets. These pamphlets offer 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,” said Solie. “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,” said Cunningham, “but whatever it is, the Holy Spirit will tell me what to do.”

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