By Dianne Frances D. Powell
For Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College alumna Nancy Payonk ’81, the sight of the brand new crosses being lifted up for installation was “a victory crowning.”
“They represent such power and strength,” a symbol of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s vision and legacy, Payonk wrote in an e-mail.
Payonk and another alumna, Martha Leinenbach Moore ’61, answered the call a year ago to generously support the College’s effort to install three new crosses atop Le Fer Hall, Guerin Hall and the Conservatory of Music.
On Saturday, Payonk, along with other SMWC alums, staff, faculty, students and visitors, walked to the front steps of each of the three campus buildings and extended their arms toward the heavens to pray for the blessing of the new crosses. The short and solemn event, part of SMWC’s Homecoming activities, included scripture and poetry readings, reflection and song.
“What a happy day that we can gather together in celebration and prayer to bless these crosses, now restored to their places overlooking our campus,” said SMWC President Dottie L. King, Ph.D. “The cross has deep meaning; a symbol of our Catholic faith. It is the primary symbol for the way Jesus defeated sin, hatred and death. The sign of the cross shows our willingness to follow Jesus and our joy at being part of His family. It is a pledge of our unity with Christ and His Church, and His saving love for us.”
“Today is about restoring a symbol of sacrifice and love and making a promise to all those who are touched by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. The crosses are back, and we are so happy,” King said.
Each building was built with concrete crosses on top. Le Fer was completed in 1923 and both Guerin and the Conservatory were completed in 1913. Over the last four years, the aging crosses were taken down due to instability and cracking of the bases. The crosses were also beginning to lean forward, which caused a safety concern.
One-by-one, the three new, stainless steel crosses were lifted up to the top of each building the week of Sept. 19, for installation by R. Adams Roofing Inc., which is ran by Randy Adams, chairperson of the SMWC Board of Trustees. Seventy-eight inches tall and 9.5 inches wide, the crosses feature three buds on the arms and a circle surrounding the intersection of the arms and stem.
The design is similar to the original crosses and inspired by other existing crosses on campus, said Karen Dyer, vice president for advancement, who spearheaded the project. The crosses, made locally, weigh approximately 175 pounds each.
The crosses were designed by Department of Art and Design Chairperson Rebecca Andrews, while Hoosier artist Bill Wolfe — whose impressive sculptures includes the Max Ehrmann in downtown Terre Haute, Larry Bird at Indiana State University and Weir Cook at the Indianapolis International Airport — fabricated them. The metal was crafted and welded by Terre Haute company Sycamore Engineering.
During the blessing, Payonk was presented with a cross necklace — a replica of the new crosses — and a framed photo. “I didn’t do it for thanks and praise. I did it because it needed to be done, for what it represents to all those who are a part of The Woods family,” Payonk said in the e-mail.
Faith and spirituality, along with academic excellence and service, are cornerstones of SMWC education. It is a college loyal to its roots and welcoming of other faith traditions.
King says the installation of the new crosses shows SMWC’s commitment to its Catholic identity as well as its efforts to preserve the architectural integrity of each of the buildings, which were built with crosses on top. “They’re actually a representation of what we believe,” she said.
During the installation, Adams sent King a photo of the cross being lifted by the crane. This photo made King “teary” because to her, it represented “lifting up the cross” to God. It was a recommitment and a promise. “It was lifting up our faith tradition for the world to see and for our students to see,” she said.
The cross blessing on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, included the participation of students, alums and individuals who contributed to the effort’s success. The program went as follows:
Start at the steps of Le Fer
Conservatory of Music
Remarks – President Dottie King
Song: Amazing Grace – Alli Payonk and Shannon Sonderman
Conservatory Cross Blessing – Nancy Payonk ‘81
Closing – President Dottie King