By Barb Arland-Fye
Out of the blue, I received an email this summer from a freelance writer in Texas. Christine Ardis discovered a J.P. Foley crucifix in a piece of furniture that belonged to her grandparents and wanted to know more about it. An internet search led her to a column I’d written four years ago about two J.P. Foley crucifixes in my office. J.P. Foley was an entrepreneur and inventor who owned a mortuary in Galesburg, Ill. His company’s crucifixes date back to the late 1920s.
Like other people who have contacted me over the four years since the column was published, Christine shared a warm, personal story related to her crucifix. At some point, the crucifix had been tucked inside her late grandparents’ secretary (a writing desk with shelves on top). But as a young child in the 1960s, Christine was focused on the secretary itself. It was “my favorite piece of furniture EVER — and I would sit down at it whenever I would go to their house, pretending I worked in an office or the post office,” Christine wrote.
“Years later, my grandma told me she wanted me to have it because she knew I loved it. …” But Christine didn’t take possession of the secretary until recently. “When I opened one of the drawers, I found a J.P. Foley crucifix. I don’t remember where my grandparents had it, and I certainly do not know its origin. However, I did a quick search of J.P. Foley in Galesburg and found your post, so I decided to write to you. This one seems to match your description.”
Don Waters, writing from Kentucky, conveyed an appreciative note this summer. He and his wife “found a beautiful old J.P. Foley crucifix” while going through her late father’s things. “We are not sure how this crucifix wound up in Sonora, Ky., but I’m glad it did. I Googled the name of the manufacturer that was stamped into the back of the metal cross and got your blog,” Don Waters wrote. He figures that a relative who died somewhere near Galesburg received the crucifix from the mortuary. He thanked me for the information he gleaned. “It gives life to the old crucifix.”
Jean Becherer-Schmidt wrote three years earlier, saying she hadn’t noticed the crucifix at her grandparents’ home until they brought it out to observe. “I was curious about the history of the crucifix and your article helped us learn,” she wrote. My Grandpa said that he got the crucifix from his mother who got it when she buried her husband, Grandpa’s dad. Grandpa wrote on the back the year he got the crucifix — 1929. Amazing!”
Out of the blue again this summer, I received an email from Ben Foley, a great-grandson of J.P. Foley. “In addition to manufacturing the Foley Crucifix he also invented and patented a locking casket handle,” Ben wrote. “Most of my siblings have what has become to us a precious family heirloom. We feel blessed to know that this symbol of Christ’s sacrifice provided comfort to others during one of life’s darkest moments. They were provided to families of the deceased at funerals.”
My J.P. Foley crucifix story began before the column that pops up when you do a Google search for “J.P. Foley.” Looking for a crucifix to display in my office, I found one in storage at the Davenport Diocese’s headquarters. The paint on the corpus needed touching up. I took on that project along with buffing the wooden cross and its metal caps, and felt God’s presence keenly. I placed this crucifix on the wall in front of my computer table for inspiration and as a visible reminder of whom I belong to.
Please share with me your stories about the crucifixes you own and cherish. I’ll share these stories in a future column.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at arland-fye@davenport