The sign of the cross

Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Marsha Holland tells the story behind one of the crosses she’s created over the years. Holland started the unusual hobby when her mother-in-law left her some pieces of jewelry Holland knew she would never wear. So she fashioned them into a cross for display — and has gone on to make many more with amazing results. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LENEXA — An act of love, born of tragedy, and turned into success — that’s a formula God likes to work with.

Marsha Holland, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, knows it well.

When her mother-in-law died five years ago, Marsha and her husband, Deacon Stuart Holland, were saddened by the loss.

Mary Holland was an active Catholic who encouraged her son in his vocation to the diaconate and died just a few months after his ordination.

She left behind a legacy of love and faith.

She also left behind a legacy of jewelry — every piece a keepsake from a time, a place, an occasion, filled with memories.

“But it wasn’t something I would wear,” said Marsha. “I’m not a big jewelry person.

“I wanted to keep it, but I also wanted to do something meaningful with it.”

Marsha loved crosses; she’d collected them for years and they hung on walls throughout her house.

So she decided to make a cross from her mother-in-law’s jewelry. She found a framework at a craft store and lovingly attached pieces of jewelry to it.

When her husband saw the result, he was amazed.

“My mother was a person of faith,” he said. “Having her jewelry attached to a cross just reminds me of that.

“I look at it and it always recalls extraordinary memories of her.”

Marsha loved the process of turning the jewelry into a piece of art so much that she made crosses for each of her children.

And she’s been making them ever since.

At first, she used jewelry, buttons and beads she picked up at garage sales or garnered from friends.

“It was just a relaxing thing to do,” she said. “I’m not a TV watcher, so it was a fun project to work on in the evenings.”

Even though the jewelry wasn’t personal to Marsha, it became personal as she placed it on the cross.

“I would wonder where this piece came from, what they wore it with, what they did,” she said.

Every cross includes religious medals and small crosses tucked among the jewels.

“I do get a spiritual sense out of it,” she said. “I know it’s going to touch somebody’s heart, so I always try to put a little piece of Catholicism with it.”

Longtime friend Nina Walton was amazed when she first saw the creations.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I never knew someone could do that with jewelry — they’re so unique and she has such a talent.

“Yet she’s so humble about what she does.”

So humble, in fact, it took encouragement from friends to convince Marsha to put her crosses in an arts and crafts sale.

They were a resounding success.

Now, people are eager to entrust Marsha with treasures that have sat hidden in the backs of closets so she can turn them into keepsakes for display.

“They are so inspirational,” said Cathy Herigon. “She’s so creative with them.”

Herigon and a group of fellow parishioners from Holy Trinity, including Sister Mary Lex Smith, SCL, had played pinochle together for 30 years.

When Sister Mary Lex was leaving the group to move to New Orleans, each member gave Marsha a special piece of jewelry.

“Marsha made a cross for her out of our jewelry,” said Herigon. “So we could share our lives with her.

“It was just wonderful to see Sister’s face light up when she got it.”

Mary Kolich is so taken with Marsha’s work that she’s collecting jewelry for a special ancestor cross.

“My mom has passed,” she said. “And my mother-in-law died before I knew her. So I’ve accumulated jewelry.

“I think it would be so cool to do a mixture of it all and know that cross represents the strong women in my past.”

“To have somebody ask you to make something,” said Marsha, “because it’s really going to touch their lives — that makes it even more fun and exciting.”

Deacon Holland sees his wife as an inspiration and an example of someone who has found a way to use God’s gifts for his glory.

“That’s the whole point of who we are as baptized Christians — to share what God has given us with others,” he said. “Beauty is beauty, whether it’s in words or art, in music, or in creating crosses.

“All of those are in some fashion an expression of the divine.”

The Hollands recently suffered another tragedy when a nephew died this past Thanksgiving.

“His mother was at the house,” said Marsha. “And she actually gave me a piece of jewelry he had given her this last year for Mother’s Day.

“I am in the process of making her a cross featuring that piece of jewelry.”

Marsha finds peace in knowing she can create a loving memory for this grieving mother.

“It makes me feel special that I can do something that somebody is going to remember this person by,” she said.

“When she makes a cross,” added her husband, “it’s a pouring out of her love for her God and love of others.

“That’s what she puts into these.”

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