By Beth Donze
Emma Nguyen’s 3-D portrayal of “Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus” captures a rare moment of hope during Christ’s Passion.
Veronica, who is seen kneeling on a cobblestone road, shows Jesus the cloth etched with the image of his face.
The battered and bloody Jesus gazes back at her in gratitude, but the veiled Veronica has no facial features, which puts the spotlight entirely on Jesus.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to make the people,” recalled Emma, a St. Rosalie fifth grader who ultimately decided to plaster over plastic toy figures to complete the stunning tableau for a Lenten religion project.
For the last 22 years, St. Rosalie’s fifth graders have been assigned one of the 15 Stations of the Cross and challenged to create 3-D depictions of them to use as visual aids at their school’s weekly Way of the Cross inside St. Rosalie Church. The only requirement is that each station scene measure in at 10 by 12 inches – small enough to hold comfortably during the special prayer services, yet large enough to be appreciated from the pews.
“They go home and do whatever they want to make (their assigned station) 3-D,” explained Caren Creppel, St. Rosalie’s principal, of the unique religion project.
This year’s media included tinsel, cork, pipe cleaners, glitter, ceramic tiles, feathers, yarn, glass, sequins and cotton balls.
Students call on their problem-solving skills for the project. For example, to keep her toy figures in their desired positions, Emma hot-glued the joints into place before covering the bodies with plaster.
“I used dried baby wipes to make the clothes,” said Emma, noting that a wipe also was used to make Veronica’s miraculous cloth – she placed it on a copying machine to transfer the image of Jesus’ face.
Masking tape and brown-painted toothpicks were deployed to make Jesus’ crown of thorns.
“The rocks are to symbolize it was a very hard journey,” Emma said, pointing to her stone-covered base, springing with silk flowers in the area of ground touched by Jesus’ cross.
The fifth graders carry their sacred artworks up their church’s center aisle on Lenten Tuesdays so they can be seen by their schoolmates in grades four through seven. St. Rosalie students as young as 3 also experience the handmade stations at various times during the season.
Fifth grader Madison Warden recycled wood from her home’s old flooring to make her rendering of “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross.” Jesus’ body is made of clay, while the hammer-wielding soldiers are relegated to paper cut-outs.
“Jesus is in clay because I want him to be the main person we are looking at,” noted Madison, who gave Christ a green crown of thorns “because the thorns were probably cut from a bush.”
To prepare for his depiction of “Jesus Falls the Second Time,” fifth grader Lucas Nguyen watched a YouTube video on how to make clay figures. He dressed Jesus in felt and joined wooden fence strips with wire to make his cross.
Courtney Babin, St. Rosalie’s fourth and fifth grade religion teacher, said her students’ station scenes have become increasingly elaborate over her 11 years at the Harvey school. Many of her students now are opting to make full-on shadowboxes, even though it is not a requirement of the project.
“They all do such a good job – you can tell they take their time; it’s something special for them and for us (teachers) too,” Babin said. “We stress how important it is to focus on Jesus’ suffering and death, and they can actually see it when they’re making their own station, especially when they’re bringing it to church and all the students are seeing their artwork. They can focus on it – almost bring it down to their level – and remember it.”
This year, the fifth graders’ stations were shared with an even wider audience. After the Lenten mission assembly for West Bank-area elementary schools, staged March 5 at St. Rosalie, Mission Office staff asked if they could borrow them for their subsequent assemblies in Slidell, New Orleans and LaPlace.
At the end of Lent, the students take their artworks home to keep as mementos. Fifth grader Jace Wagoner, who used real nails and made tiny wooden hammers for his rendering of “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross,” plans to give his piece to an elderly neighbor.
“He is religious, and he would probably like it,” Jace said.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.