Former Christ the King High School Principal Dan Dolan had a certain table he liked to sit at in the school’s common area. From his seat, he could look out on the hilly, open field behind the school, which sits on about 100 acres.
One day, he wondered aloud to art teacher Greg Stump: “Do you think your students could put a cross on that hilltop?”
Dolan, who opened Christ the King in 2011, left in 2014 for a new job in Texas. In mid-March, students and staff worked raised a 20-foot, metal cross in view of the common area.
On a chilly, gray morning, the entire student body walked into the field and watched as a group of male students – wearing suits because the school celebrated Mass that day – pulled the cross into an upright position. The Rev. Paul McNulty, parochial vicar of St. Mark Parish in Huntersville, blessed the cross.
Stump, who worked closely with school maintenance director Steve Italiano on the project, led a team of several industrial design students as they designed and built the cross.
“It’s amazing to think that something I helped initially construct will stay on the CTK grounds for years to come,” said Catherine Strickland, the only female student on the team.
Students Logan Thayer, Jack Nobers, Luke Modzelewski, Connor Holleran, Alex Koenigsberger, Matthew Marenna and Strickland worked on the cross for about eight months.
They worked regardless of the weather. If it was cold, they played songs from the movie “Frozen” to keep the situation light.
“By the end, they were like a union,” Stump said. Students progressed from not knowing how to use some of the tools to assigning each other roles, giving their tools names and requiring each other to check them out.
“It was a great hands-on project,” Stump said. “I like having kids work on things that are three-dimensional because we live in such a flat world with technology (and screens).”
The finished cross is a geometric, 3D design painted slightly off-white to match the school. Students built a base for it using rebar and 33 bags of concrete mix.
“Mr. Stump helped us with problems like not knowing what size screw goes with which ratchet or why the drill wasn’t working (because) most of the time the drill was going in reverse,” Modzelewski said. “But most of all, Mr. Stump showed us that we could have fun while we worked.”
The work wasn’t over once the cross was finished. Students had to figure out how to move the 300-pound work of art to the top of the hill.
Before the cross-raising ceremony, the bottom of the cross was set on the concrete base and ropes were tied to its arms to pull it up. Students didn’t practice raising it before the official ceremony, but when the time came, they pulled it smoothly into the air.
The metal work forms the outline of the cross, giving it a “translucent” appearance that Stump said for him embodies unseen spiritual qualities along with its physical presence.
This spring, Dolan will return to Christ the King High School for the commencement ceremony for the school’s first graduating class, and he will see the cross on the hill for the first time.
Strickland said there were times she thought the cross was a “distant dream that was never going to become reality.” When she saw the pieces of the base of the cross put together, however, she realized how big it would be.
“It was going to be gigantic and a symbol of my school’s Catholic identity that everyone can see,” she said. “I’m most grateful and honored that I was able to be part of such an incredible team that created a big something from little nothings that current and future Crusaders will appreciate.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about Christ the King High School, visit www.christthekinghs.com.