Many people turn to nature when they’re thinking about religion. Robert Cunningham of Prairie Village takes this route, but with the hands-on twist.
Cunningham makes crucifixes from small tree branches he finds on the ground when he takes walks near his home at the Claridge Court senior living facility.
“I’ll go over to the park, pick (the branches) up and take them home,” Cunningham said. “In inclement weather, I drive up and down the street with shears and shear them off (downed branches).”
At home, he has a special work station set up where he can cut the stick the right length, then use a saw to make a notch where two twigs can fit together to produce a cross. After that, he files down rough edges on the wood and coats it in lacquer.
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“There’s about a hundred different things you have to do,” Cunningham said. “There isn’t anything that’s so hard. It just takes time.”
He buys small plastic figurines, called corpus dolls, to represent Jesus and attaches them to the finished cross.
Cunningham, 89, attributes the genesis of the project to divine inspiration.
“One day, I received a corpus doll and had a look, and the Holy Spirit said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you an idea,’” Cunningham said.
He gives the finished crucifixes to his church, Curé of Ars, to priests and nuns, people going on mission trips and “whoever I think will enjoy and appreciate it,” Cunningham said.
In addition to the crucifixes, Cunningham also makes and repairs rosaries for 12 or 13 parishes, he said. He sells lots of them each year to raise money for seminaries through the archdiocese of Kansas City.
Cunningham is a lifelong resident of the Kansas City area. After graduating from Rockhurst University, he served in the Marine Corps during World War II and earned a Purple Heart after being wounded on Saipan.
He went on to be part of the occupying force in Nagasaki, Japan, before his military service finished and he returned to Kansas City.
From 1954 to 1996, he helped run the family business, Cunningham Automotive Group.
He is proud to have raised six children with his first wife, Rosemary. He became a widower in 2010 and is now married to his second wife, Shirl.