Kelley Stadelman holds a photo album documenting her creation of the crucifix at St. Edward Parish in North Plains. “I ran up against a wall in an area I was having difficulty with and I turned it into a prayer,” said Stadelman, a parishioner at St. Edward. “It just made me relax and be able to use the gifts that he gave me to do this.” (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Kelley Stadelman holds a photo album documenting her creation of the crucifix at St. Edward Parish in North Plains. “I ran up against a wall in an area I was having difficulty with and I turned it into a prayer,” said Stadelman, a parishioner at St. Edward. “It just made me relax and be able to use the gifts that he gave me to do this.” (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)

NORTH PLAINS — Walking into the sanctuary at St. Edward Parish here, the life-size crucifix hanging behind the altar draws worshippers into the space. The figure of the crucified Christ is not just an ornament but a chance for meditation on the paschal mystery.

The crucifix, which was crafted by parishioner Kelley Stadelman, is a recent addition to the church in North Plains. The previous crucifix was small and onlookers couldn’t see the details. Discussions began on buying a new, larger crucifix when Stadelman offered her services.

Stadelman happened to be working in the hall kitchen at an event when she overheard Father Michael Vuky, pastor at the parish, talking with another parishioner about purchasing a new crucifix for the church. She quickly told the pair that she would be interested in trying to make the crucifix instead. They contacted her shortly thereafter and commissioned her to work on the project.

“It’s something that I felt like I was destined to do,” said Stadelman. And so her work began.

A parish committee for the project had a small list of requests. First, the corpus should be realistic. Second, the committee wanted Jesus in the phase of his crucifixion where he’s given himself up to God. Third, the corpus should be painted to make the connection that Jesus was a real person. Fourth, the statue should be large — to add to the spirituality of the sanctuary. And finally, Father Vuky hoped the crucifix could be completed before Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Sunday following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Stadleman completed all of the requests, and even had the crucifix done a month before the deadline.

The work was difficult, said Stadelman, who has been doing carvings for some 35 years. She’d never completed a project so large and so detailed. She’d done life-size carvings of people and even one of Jesus, but never one that showed so much skin. In wood carving, skin is sanded smooth, but clothing usually isn’t. So the more skin to be shown, the more work the project requires.

“I’d have a discussion with [Jesus] and say, ‘This is what I’m hoping will happen today and I need your help because this is not easy for me,’” recalled the carver.

“I ran up against a wall in an area I was having difficulty with and I turned it into a prayer,” she added. “It just made me relax and be able to use the gifts that he gave me to do this.”

Stadelman is a native of the Salem area but came to North Plains when she married her husband Bill 45 years ago. She’s been a parishioner at St. Edward ever since.

For Stadelman, the crucifix project was years in the making. She’d explored churches around the world, keeping a keen eye on each crucifix.

“She put a lot of time into researching the different Christs for crucifix figures,” said Stadelman’s husband, Bill. He recalled the two of them going to Austria and taking pictures in churches and Germany before that.

Carving people is all about human anatomy, said Stadelman. “You have to get it right on something like this.”

She looked at muscles and what they would look like when a body was in a crucifixion position.

“A crucifixion is very painful and stressful,” said Stadelman. “The entire body would be just stressed.

“When [Jesus is ] at this point, he’s giving himself over and there’s a peace that comes to him,” she added. “He’s looking to heaven and instead of the stress of a tense face and muscles, his jaw is slack because he’s just relaxed and at peace with where he’s going.”

“It’s a shame you can’t see his eyes,” said Jean Worley, Stadelman’s mother, pointing to the fact that the beauty in Jesus’ eyes can’t be seen fully from the pews.

By January of this year, Stadelman started working more diligently on the project. By May she’d had a design. Then she created it in clay, which gave her a pattern for the wood. And by the end of the summer, the crucifix was carved and painted.

The process meant a lot to Stadelman.

“I was up close and personal with Christ this whole time. I felt like I was in his personal space at times.”

In the intricately carved and painted figure hanging behind the altar, Stadelman’s creativity and devotion are apparent. And the congregation at St. Edward appreciates it.

The evening before the crucifix was blessed, a sheet covered it as it hung in the sanctuary, recalled John Reding, a parishioner at St. Edward. Reding and Stadelman’s husband stood behind the altar backdrop preparing to remove the sheet after the Saturday vigil Mass at the parish. From where they stood, they couldn’t see the crowd that had gathered to get their first glimpse.

“As soon as the sheet dropped, we heard exclamations,” said Reding. “They were amazed.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” said retired Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner, who blessed the crucifix Sept. 15 during Mass. The fixture fits well in the church because the backdrop behind the altar is built for something large, he added.

“I feel blessed that we have a parishioner so talented, gifted and spiritual as Kelley Stadelman,” said Father Vuky. The priest pointed out that Stadelman was commissioned to complete a statue of St. Edward the Confessor for the parish 20 years earlier.

“It is truly a feat of stewardship as she offered her time, talent and treasure for the beautification of the church’s sacred space,” he said.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org