By Barb Arland-Fye
An antique metal crucifix about 23 inches long had been left for me at the front desk of diocesan headquarters. When I claimed it, a sense of déjà vu occurred. Was this crucifix identical to the one hanging in my office; the one I found in the maintenance department, received permission to take and refinish with tender loving care earlier this summer?
At first glance, the corpus on this crucifix matched the one in my office. The cream-colored paint had worn off in the same spots – Jesus’ crown of thorns, his nose, hands and toes. The halo above his head matched. Bounding upstairs to my office, I compared the two crucifixes. The one hanging on my wall has a wooden cross with decorative metal pieces adorning the four corners. But there’s no question the corpuses came from similar metal molds.
Examining the metal crucifix front to back, I found a sepia-toned business card tucked into the space where the horizontal and vertical beams meet. The card, decorated on both sides with rosary beads and flower petals read: “Compliments of The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa. This beautiful Crucifix absolutely free with two new, paid in advance yearly subscriptions.”
When did The Catholic Messenger give away crucifixes as a promotion to sell subscriptions? Msgr. Frank Henricksen, who was editor of The Catholic Messenger for some 35 years before my time and who has been a priest of the Davenport Diocese for 56 years, said he’d never heard of such a promotion.
I did a Google search for J.P. Foley Co., Galesburg, Ill., the name embossed on the back of the metal crucifix. That led to eBay, where a crucifix identical to the metal one had a winning bid of $20.50.
Anne Marie Amacher, The Catholic Messenger’s assistant editor, did additional sleuthing; she emailed her contacts at The Catholic Post in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., where Galesburg is located.
“I found the grandson of JP Foley and his story is below. I hope it sheds some light on your mysterious crucifix,” emailed Sonia Nelson, The Catholic Post’s advertising manager. It turns out Jim Foley’s grandfather, JP, founded Foley Mortuary. While running that company, he started a business that manufactured products for use by funeral homes, including crucifixes.
“They are still around and from time to time I’ll see a ‘Foley’ Crucifix in an antique store! Many of us eight Foley kids have one,” Jim wrote in an email to Sonia.
Jim’s brother, Dan Foley, in another email wrote that the crucifixes were hung in every hospital room at the Catholic hospital in Galesburg. Families of the deceased also received a crucifix at every funeral. JP ran the hardware business simultaneously with his funeral business. “In those days, funerals were not one-stop shopping,” Jim wrote. “To my knowledge, (JP’s) hardware business closed with his passing. The castings for the crucifix were kept for years but were later discarded.”
I’m not a detective, but I’m guessing the crucifix hanging on my wall is a sibling to the metal crucifix that Father Stephen Page of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield left for me at the front desk a couple of weeks ago. He found the crucifix in a back drawer in the sacristy of the old St. Mary’s church building.
I’m wondering how many Catholic Messenger readers might own a JP Foley crucifix. Please send an email or letter with the story of your crucifix to share with other readers. My email address is email@example.com. My postal address is: The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804. Or call me at (563) 888-4246.