Beautiful. Splendid. Lovely. These are just a few of the words used to describe the new stations of the cross, which now stand vigil in the Prayer Garden, a ribbon of green set hard against the school.
Students, educators, parents, and friends of Gibbons filled the garden yesterday, March 7, to attend the blessing and dedication of the new stations, which are on permanent loan to our school from St. Francis of Assisi Parish. The hand-carved wooden stations once graced the walls of the parish’s original church until they were removed more than two decades ago and stored in the friary’s attic. Lovingly restored over the last year, they replace the old stations that were created in 2009 and had fallen victim to time and nature.
It is no coincidence that the new stations were dedicated the day after Ash Wednesday - the official start of Lent. Installing them by the start of the Lenten season was an objective set by school administrators and Theology Educator Mark DeLaRosa, a prime mover behind renewing the stations, which he described as a true community-wide project. DeLaRosa also thanked everyone who contributed to The Cardinal Gibbons Fund, adding that "this project is a concrete example of what those funds can do for us."
Describing the project's intent, he said. “My prayer is that our new stations help us in our faith journey whether in Lent or throughout the year.”
The timing also enables the Gibbons school community to continue to celebrate the season with a Stations of the Cross Prayer Service. In this school tradition, theology educators pray the stations with students each Wednesday in Lent.
Fr. Daniel Oschwald, who blessed the stations after he celebrated Mass in the school chapel, said in his homily: Praying the stations of the cross “is part of the school’s tradition, part of the school’s spirituality.”
When the project was first announced, Principal Jason Curtis said, “the use of the stations from St. Francis would also help remind us of the legacy of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, who ministered the school from 1994 to 2006, and our wonderful partnership with local Catholic middle schools and parishes, including St. Francis.”
The garden is dedicated to the memory of two Gibbons students - Brandon James Allen and Thomas Austin Cope - who died in a car accident during their sophomore year. It was a gift to the school by their fellow Class of 2009 students. Family members of both boys attended yesterday’s Mass and blessing as well as the reception that followed.
Jack Arnold also attended. The retired landscape architect and former Gibbons Theology educator designed the original garden and refreshed it over the last year, with the help of students as well as educators, in preparation for the new stations.
“My prayer is that our new stations help us in our faith journey whether in Lent or throughout the year,” Mark DeLaRosa said of the project’s intent.
Indeed, students have been involved in the entire stations' project, DeLaRosa explained. As examples, he pointed to their help taking down the old stations and putting up the new ones, as well as many tasks in between. “This is a legacy project for them too,” DeLaRosa said. “They have helped create something that will last for years and help a lot of people.”
The job of restoring the stations went to Richard Dumas, a retired Raleigh engineer, whose proposal won out over two others because, “it met every criterion, from security to durability,” DeLaRosa explained. Aesthetically, the stations -now mounted in protective enclosures - complement the garden, he noted, adding that the images depicted on them, with their strong Franciscan character, “tie into our school’s heritage and bring us deeper into the story of Jesus’ Passion and Death.”
Explaining the impact of the new stations DeLaRosa said: “I think they are a mirror for us to see our own experiences and maybe have a deeper understanding of what we are called to do. We see in the material what can bring us to the divine.”
To be sure, as we gathered for the blessing in that sacred place on that chilly March morning the beauty of the images depicted on the new stations warmed our hearts and our spirit as we begin our Lenten journey this season.