Contemplate the cross

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wooden cross from the Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux

Image: Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux

"The cross is our greatest teacher,” writes Alice Camille in Seven Last Words. “It was meant to be an instrument of execution, but it became a source of salvation for all. . . . Contemplate it often.”

With that advice in mind, VISION invited religious communities to submit images of the crosses that serve as the symbol or inspiration for their distinct way of life. We were delighted to receive photos and stories of crosses made out of every material imaginable—wood, metal, glass, fabric—painted on canvas, fashioned into jewelry, and fit into window frames to adorn the community’s church, chapel, cemetery, or grounds or the members themselves. These simple yet powerful expressions of the central image of the Christian faith are an opportunity for all of us to contemplate the essence of Christian discipleship, particularly as it is made manifest within the diversity of consecrated life.

Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux
Vina, California

The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux is home to a community of Cistercian monks guided by ancient monastic tradition and living the Rule of Benedict. More commonly known as Trappist monks, they strive for a balance of prayer, hospitality, work, study, and sustainable stewardship of resources in simplicity and openness for the glory of God.

The massive cross that stands over the cemetery in the cloister is a reminder to the monks that they have not finished persevering in their vows until they join their brothers under it. Their lives begin, end, and begin again at the cross.


Congregation of Holy Cross, U.S. Province
Notre Dame, Indiana

Jesus called his first disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, so it’s only natural that Christians place importance on the imagery of the sea, especially the anchor, a symbol of safety, strength, and grounding. The motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross, founders of the University of Notre Dame, University of Portland, King’s College, and Stonehill College, is “Hail the Cross our only Hope.” The symbols of the cross and anchor are merged in the order’s emblem, which is worn by every member as a reminder to them that they can rely on hope and as a sign to others that these are “men with hope to bring.”

Cross of Congregation of Holy Cross, US Province
Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province


Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception Province

New York, New York

cross of Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception Province
Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception Province

The Tau Cross is one of the prominent symbols of the Franciscan Friars. The Tau is a letter in the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. In the writings of the prophet Ezekiel and in the book of Revelation, the Tau is a sign of salvation. It was adopted by Christians because of its cruciform shape, and Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, used it as his personal coat of arms.

Franciscan Friars strive to live the gospel by following the example of the order’s founder. The Franciscan Friars of the Province of the Immaculate Conception are involved in parishes, retreat centers, missions, chaplaincies, and schools.


Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province
St. Louis, Missouri

The Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province, are members of a worldwide community whose lives and mission are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus and the spirit of its foundress, Saint Angela Merici. The cross they wear is worn by Ursulines on six continents. It represents the resurrected Christ and the order’s call to affirm all people, offering hope and joy to a divided world.

cross of Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province
Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province

The Ursulines of the Central Province do this through education—a hallmark of Ursuline ministries—and spiritual and social services fields with outreach to immigrants, the dying, elderly homeless, and other disenfranchised populations. In particular, Ursulines strive to fulfill the commitment of Saint Angela to bring peace and reconciliation among peoples in a multicultural society.


Dominican Sisters of San Rafael
San Rafael, California

In 1990, a fire severely damaged the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, a multi-story Victorian built in 1889. It was replaced by an administration building and adjoining convents. At the front of the administration building’s main gathering space—used for celebrations, funerals, workshops, vigils, fundraisers, and speaking events—is an art glass installation of cross icons, produced by Gordon Huether of Architectural Glass Design.

cross of Dominican Sisters of San Rafael
Dominican Sisters of San Rafael

The artist’s statement about the piece: “I paid keen attention to the historical aspects of the Dominican Order and the architecture of the original motherhouse. The elements of this glass mural include many strong vertical columns that frame the fused glass icons. These icons are my interpretation of various Christian symbols that are meaningful and relevant to the Dominican Order. Many of these icons are abstracted beyond recognition. This suggests the nature of change, transition, and growth. Being one thing today and becoming something different tomorrow. The dichronized mouth-blown rondel suggests the eternal nature of God, with no beginning and no end.”

For the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, the piece reflects the order’s mission to bring the gospel to bear with depth and compassion on the critical issues of our times.


Glenmary Sisters
Owensboro, Kentucky

The cross of the Glenmary Sisters has at its center a medallion, which is the community logo, “The Star of Bethlehem,” a quilt pattern popular in rural America. The points and rays of the star symbolize how the order reaches out to all people. The points also symbolize the desire to reconcile all people and churches as well as the hospitality of the Glenmary charism.

cross of Glenmary Sisters
Glenmary Sisters

The Glenmary Sisters have established missions in the impoverished rural areas of the South and Appalachia, where the Catholic population is usually less than 2 percent. The sisters help people become self-supportive, break the reins of poverty, and lead successful, Christian lives. Glenmary Sisters are currently missioned in western and eastern Kentucky, southeast Georgia, and southern Missouri.


Sisters of St. Francis
Clinton, Iowa

“We see every person as a visible image of the invisible God and as a sister or brother in Christ,” according to the constitutions and directives of the Clinton, Iowa Sisters of St. Francis. The sisters’ chapel window, based on images from “Canticle of Creation” by Saint Francis of Assisi, is a reminder of how God’s light makes images visible. The sun, moon and stars, water and wind, fire and flowers also reinforce the order’s commitment to care for the earth. The window reflects how many-faceted the sisters themselves are: teachers, artists, attorneys, and mathematicians; innovators and advocates; chaplains and social workers; daughters, aunts, and cousins—and most important, servants of God.

The sisters are devoted to peacemaking, service to the poor and marginalized, and a life of active nonviolence. 

stained glass of Sisters of St. Francis
Sisters of St. Francis


crucifix of Poor Handmaids  of Jesus Christ
Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ
Donaldson, Indiana

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ received a Tramp Art Cross as a gift. It now serves as a prominent symbol of their lives dedicated to proclaiming the presence of God in the world. This elaborate piece is made from simple cigar boxes. Tramp Art is a type of American folk art that dates from 1870 to 1930 and uses small pieces of wood, primarily from old cigar boxes and shipping crates, which are whittled with a pocketknife into geometric shapes and notched at right angles on the outside edges—a woodworking technique called “crown of thorns.”

The Poor Handmaids live a vowed life in community. They are inspired by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Blessed Katherine Kasper, the order’s foundress, to listen prayerfully, live simply, and serve joyfully as they minister in parishes, health care, education, and social work.


Find more community crosses here. 

Related article:, Art: A way into prayer, Vision 2015.

Contemplate the cross
Jennifer Tomshack is editorial director of TrueQuest Communications, publisher of VISION Vocation Guide.




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