Sister Claire’s Burned Crucifix

March 27, 2003

I have met a lot of people and made some of the best friendships of my life since I started going to Emmitsburg. Sister Genevieve Walsh and Sister Claire Mahoney will always stand out in my mind, not only because of their unwavering devotion and confidence in Our Lady of Emmitsburg but also because of their never ending kindness and generosity to others. Sister Claire’s brother is a priest, Fr. Daniel J. Mahoney and his parish is in Harrisburg, Pa. He recently retired.

About 25 years ago Fr. Mahoney’s church was set on fire by an arsonist who doused it with gasoline and then tossed in a match. The person responsible was caught. The church suffered extensive damage and the entire inside had to be completely rebuilt. When Fr. Mahoney retired this past summer, Sister Claire was helping him go through some things that had been stored down in the basement of the church. One of the items they came upon was the remains of the nearly life size crucifix that hung in the church at the time of the fire.

The crucifix was a hand carved masterpiece that seems to capture the facial expression of Jesus at the moment of death. The cross was completely destroyed and both arms were burned completely off. The feet are badly damaged but the rest of the body is in pretty good shape, especially the face which received no damage at all other than being blackened by the intense heat.

This past June, Sister Genevieve called me and said that Sister Claire had dropped off the crucifix and wanted me to bring it back to "hometown" to get David Guinn’s father to look at it to see what could be done, if anything to preserve it. David’s father is a master carpenter and wood finisher and he framed the picture of Our Lady of Emmitsburg that hung in St. Joseph’s on Thursdays and now hangs at Sister Genevieve’s. I told Sister Genevieve that I would pick it up when I come to St. Mary’s on July 5th for our weekly rosary.

After the rosary I drove over to Sister Genevieve’s and the crucifix was wrapped up in a blanket and laying on a bed. I had never seen the crucifix and it was bigger than I thought. I picked it up and was placing it in the back of my truck when all of the sudden I was struck with a very strong sense of peace. It was among the strongest I have ever felt. As I finished securing it in the back of my truck I noticed through the rear window that the clock on the dash said 9:33.

I brought the crucifix back to "hometown" and it was determined that nothing really needed to be done to preserve it. All of the badly burned areas had finished chipping and dropping off chunks of charcoal and it was in a fairly stable state of condition. I was going to take it back to Sister Claire the following week but she said that I could keep it for a while if I wanted to. I ended up keeping it in my house for about 6 or 8 weeks before Sister Claire said I needed to bring it back. I hated the thought of returning it because I enjoyed having it in the house. There were numerous times while I had it that I would just walk up to it and say a prayer only to be filled with peace upon the start or completion of the prayer and the time would be 13 or 33 minutes after the hour.

When I took it back to Emmitsburg I went to the Friday night rosary at St. Mary’s and then I dropped the crucifix off with Sister Genevieve. Sister Claire was going to pick it up the next day. I placed it on the same bed that it was laying on the day I picked it up. As I laid it down I was again filled with that special peace that is impossible to describe. I had no idea what the time was but the peace was so strong I knew I had to look at my watch. The time was 9:13. At that very instant I suddenly knew that my involvement with that crucifix was not over. I had no idea what that involvement might be but I knew there was more to come.

About 10 months later on March 22, 2003 I was praying the rosary in St. Mary’s in Fredricksburg and I suddenly started thinking about the crucifix and how much I have missed it since I returned it to Sister Claire. I was curious as to what she had done with it. I glanced at my watch as this ran through my mind and it said XX:XX:13. As I was driving home from Fredricksburg I called Sister Claire because it had been a while since I had seen or talked to her. I asked about the crucifix and I told her that I enjoyed the 2 months that I had it at my house. We then talked about other things and hung up.

Three nights later on March 25th when I got home from work S.C.C. told me that Sister Claire had called and wanted me to call her back. S.C.C. told me that she wanted to give me the crucifix. I returned her call and told her that I could not accept it. Sister Claire insisted that I take it and told me that she had prayed and was confident that I should have it. Sister Claire said she would bring it to St. Joseph’s on Thursday March 27th to the 3 PM rosary and that it would be going home with me on a permanent basis. She also said she would like for me to share it with David Guinn because it would be a positive element for anyone discerning a vocation to the priesthood. I told her that I would see her at St. Joseph’s on Thursday for the rosary. I hung up the phone and was again instantly overcome with that strong sense of peace. I looked at my watch and the time was 6:13.

Thursday came and I took the day off from work so I could go to the rosary at St. Joseph’s. It had been about 8 or 9 months since I last went on Thursday since we were going to the one at St. Mary’s on Fridays. The phone rang and when I went to answer it I noticed the clock next to it said 7:33. It was Sister Claire saying that she hoped S.C.C. and C.R.C. could come to St. Joseph’s with me because it had been so long since she had seen them. I told her that S.C.C. had already left to drive C.R.C. to school and she would have to pick him up at 3 o’clock so they would not be able to come. Sister Claire then said “Well try to bring someone from the old "hometown" crowd”. I told Sister Claire that I would try.

There are about 25 parishioners (plus or minus a few and not counting children) from our parish who have attended the Thursday night rosary. I took some then they started taking others. Towards the end I was seeing more and more people from our home parish on a regular basis at St. Joseph’s on Thursday nights.

When I hung up I called Cecilia C___ to see if she wanted to go. Cecilia had just said something about a week earlier about wanting to go to Emmitsburg so I thought of her first. Cecilia said she wanted to go. I told Cecilia that I would pick her up at 12 noon SHARP. I was not paying any attention to the time and when I hung up I noticed the time on the clock next to the phone was 8:13. When I pulled out of the driveway to go to Emmitsburg the odometer was 1.3. As I was driving towards town I suddenly had the desire to pray the rosary. I stopped at "Parish Church" and when I arrived I looked at my watch and the time was 11:13:33. I prayed the Sorrowful mysteries and when I finished and was walking out of the church the time was 11:33.

I drove to Cecelia’s house and when I arrived she was not home. I was about 10 minutes early and she was about 10 minutes late. I waited for her to arrive and then we started driving to Emmitsburg. While we were driving the phone rang and it was Ted saying he was sorry that he could not go today because he sold his house and is in the process of moving in with his daughter, Diane. When Ted called the time on the dash was 1:13. We continued our drive to Emmitsburg and when Cecelia and I pulled up to St. Joseph’s the clock on the dash was 2:33 and I looked at my watch and it said 2:33:33.

We were the first to arrive for the 3 PM rosary and when we walked in the church nobody else was there. Cecilia and I were praying when we heard the door open, I looked back and it was Sister Claire. Sister Claire asked me to come outside to help her with something. We walked over to her car and got the crucifix and I thought we were just going to put it in my truck. Sister Claire said she wanted to take it in the church for the rosary. When she said this my thought was that we should not take it in the church. I did not have the courage to express my feelings about this to Sister Claire and together we carried it in and placed it in the front of the church. I did not have a good feeling about this and thought it was a step over the boundary of our welcome and permission for the 3 PM rosary but I remained silent.

By now the rest of the people who regularly pray the rosary on Thursday arrived. It was about 10 people this particular day. Larry McLean who is a Thursday regular arrived and I could tell by the expression on his face that he felt the same way that I did. When the bell tower on the church struck 3 PM Sister Claire asked me to start the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, we would then pray all 20 decades of the rosary. I did but I could not put my heart in it because I was nervous. I was moving through the Chaplet at a pretty high rate of speed. After the Chaplet was over Sister Claire walked up to the crucifix and started to pick it up and take it outside. I helped her. As we were carrying the crucifix out I noticed that Larry was not in his seat. We had just got outside with the crucifix, heading for my truck when we saw Larry walking back from the rectory. He signaled with his arms to take the crucifix back in the church. Larry then said “just to be on the safe side I got permission from Fr. Goff”. Fr. Goff said there was no problem at all having the crucifix in the church while we prayed the rosary.

Sister Claire and I turned around, went back in the church and put the crucifix where we originally placed it at the front of the church. We went back to our seats and started the rosary. When I started the rosary I was looking at the burned Body of Jesus laying at the front of the church and I was suddenly filled with tremendous peace. I looked at my watch and the time was 3:13. As we prayed the entire rosary, I could not keep my eyes off of the burned crucifix. I could not believe that it would be going home with me. During the rosary I was very suddenly filled with an urgent, sudden and out of nowhere desire to pray for the person who burned Fr. Mahoney’s church 25 years ago. It was so sudden, strong and clear that I knew that it did not originate from me. I looked at my watch and the time was 3:33:13.

When the rosary was over we took the crucifix and put it in my truck. We were very careful to wrap it up good to make sure there was no damage during the ride home. At the very instant we finished securing it in my truck I was again struck with a very strong sense of peace. I looked at my watch and the time was 4:33. We then walked over to the Ott House and ate dinner. When we finished eating we said goodbye to Sister Claire, Larry and the others. Cecilia and I rode over to the Grotto but they had just locked the gate. Cecilia then asked if we could go visit Sister Genevieve because it had been so long since she had seen her. When Cecelia’s house burned down Sister Genevieve and other members of the Thursday night prayer group raised more than $400.00 to help Cecelia. This combined with the tremendous generosity of parishioners of "Parish Church" is a perfect example of “a community which rises together in hardships and joins in helping one another as recorded throughout history when sisterhood and brotherhood laid the foundation of love

We started driving to go visit Sister Genevieve and we stopped at St. Mary’s for a few minutes along the way. The church was open because the choir practices on Thursday evenings. When we arrived at St. Mary’s the odometer was 333. When Cecilia said she was ready to go we drove the rest of the way to Sister Genevieve’s and arrived there at 7:33. We visited for a little while and it is so good to see Sister’s health improving. There have been several times during the past couple of years that we were concerned we might loose her. She will be 80 on her next birthday. Cecilia and I left after about a 20 minute visit. I drove Cecilia back to her house in Brightwood and then I drove home, pulled in my driveway and unloaded the crucifix from the back of the truck. The time was 11:13.