TYNGSBOROUGH — The Rev. Ronald St. Pierre is moved by noted wood carver Johannes Kirchmayer’s interpretation of the eighth Station of the Cross, which depicts Jesus encountering the women of Jerusalem.
“I have never seen a child in a Station of the Cross before,” said St. Pierre, pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen Church, admiring the ornate carving. “It’s very interesting that he is reaching out, as he, himself, is going to the cross. It’s such a tender moment.”
The 14 Stations of the Cross, illustrating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, are an essential part of Catholic worship during Lent and Easter. Kirchmayer’s stations, carved 100 years ago for a church in Boston, are a sacred treasure for Saint Mary Magdalen, the newest church in the Archdiocese of Boston.
“He’s probably the best known carver of the American Arts and Crafts period,” said Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems senior curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “He was extremely skilled in his carving ability.”
Kirchmayer, who emigrated from Bavaria to Boston in 1880, became a prominent carver whose work is found in churches and museums across the country. The MFA’s furniture collection includes a child’s bed Kirchmayer carved for Ralph Adams Cram, a prominent early 20th-century architect of academic and church buildings.
Kirchmayer was commissioned to carve the stations, along with a pulpit and life-sized statue of Jesus, for Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain. After that church closed in 2004, the pulpit was installed at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End, but the stations and statue were stored in a warehouse, waiting to be placed in another church.
The Stations of the Cross are a fine example of Kirchmayer’s style, Gadsden said.
“His work is extremely detailed and nuanced,” said Gadsden, who said she viewed the stations at Blessed Sacrament. “I’m thrilled that it’s been saved, and now again has a home, for people to see it.”
St. Pierre hopes the stations make the church a destination for Kirchmayer disciples. “There are a lot of people who follow his work,” he said. “They’re welcome to visit, as are the former parishioners of Blessed Sacrament. We’re blessed to have these here.”
The 100-year-old stations help to create a blend of old and new culture at Saint Mary Magdalen. The $1.3 million church, which held its first Mass a week before Christmas in 2011, was dedicated by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley in March 2012, according to St. Pierre.
The spacious building replaced a tiny church, located near Lake Mascuppic in Dracut, where Saint Mary Magdalen was established in 1959, according to parish history. Over time, the parish outgrew the church. In 2006, a parish center was built down the road in Tyngsborough, with room for a church to be built on top, St. Pierre explained.
“We wanted to preserve the past while moving to the future,” St. Pierre said, his voice laced with excitement.
A 75-car caravan, led by an antique convertible Chevrolet carrying a cross, transported the old church’s most sacred items to the new church. A 5-foot crucifix, the pascal candle, the tabernacle, and other items filled cars, pickups, and even a flower car from a funeral home.
The old church’s oak benches were carved up and remade into an altar, pulpit, baptismal font, and frames for the Stations of the Cross in the new church. “We wanted to bring memories from our past,” St. Pierre said.
Along with the Kirchmayer stations and statue, religious items from other closed parishes found a new home at Saint Mary Magdalen. Pews believed to be 120 to 140 years old came from Saint Catherine of Siena in Charlestown.
Stained-glass windows from that church — including one depicting the patroness St. Mary Magdalen on Easter morning — are a blessing for the ages, St. Pierre said.
“She was on a journey that Easter morning,” St. Pierre said. “We are on a journey, too.”