Carrying the cross is a spiritual (and school) exercise

Catholic keepsakes offer an effective way to hold the past, raise funds

By Bill Brewer

There is recycling. And then there is a spiritual aspect to recycling, which the Catholic Church encourages in ways such as Pope Francis’ recent encyclical and exhortation on the environment and care for our common home.

Closer to home, there is no better illustration of the spiritual side of recycling than with at least two Diocese of Knoxville schools.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga and Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Knoxville have discovered a unique way to honor the faith, reuse a valuable natural resource, and at the same time raise funds for vital projects.

The schools have been undergoing renovations in portions of their facilities, and as part of the upgrades they have replaced aging gym floors.

Rather than relegate the gym floor hardwood to the trash heap, school leaders and students have discovered a creative and unique use for it: crosses.

Father Arthur Torres, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish and School, explained that OLPH principal Caroline Carlin and school development director Cathy Clifford worked with the school’s Girl Scouts on their project.

They arranged for the wood to be collected and sawed into small crosses suitable for hanging on a wall.

Father Torres said the gym floor was replaced at OLPH in 2023 after serving the school for 86 years.

“We decided to renovate the gym floor because it had some cracks and also because it was needed for the students to have a better place to do their physical education and also their sports. So, we decided to go ahead and change that floor,” Father Torres said. “So, [in 2022] along with Caroline Carlin and Cathy Clifford, we raised some money for the gym to be remodeled. It has turned out beautifully.”

Ms. Clifford noted that the project was a team effort with a number of contributors.

“Donna Henderson, a dedicated volunteer at OLPH for over 25 years, actively engaged with the Girl Scouts and various school parent organizations and embarked on a mission close to her heart. With school plans to replace the aging school gym floor, which had served its purpose for over 50 years, Donna was determined to preserve meaningful fragments of its historic floor,” Ms. Clifford explained.

“In a remarkable act of kindness, Donna’s friend volunteered to assess the gym floor and determine if he could use the scraps to create the crosses. Without seeking any compensation, he went through the scraps of wood, removed nails, determined dimensions, and skillfully crafted over 60 crosses. This act of generosity was a testament to the shared commitment to the values of OLPH,” she continued. “Donna’s anonymous friend, driven by a calling to serve others, selflessly dedicated his time and skills to bring Donna’s vision to life, embodying the ethos of generosity and community that defines OLPH.”

Father Arthur Torres, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Chattanooga, holds some of the crosses that have been made from OLPH School’s old gym floor. (Photo Gabrielle Nolan)

Father Torres blessed the crosses, and they were made available to OLPH supporters for a donation to assist with the school’s needs.

“Immediately, 56 of the crosses raised over $2,500. The remaining four crosses will be sold at the Ram Bash Auction this spring. The proceeds further contributed to the enhancement of the school’s facilities,” Ms. Clifford said.

The crosses not only serve as a tool of the faith, they also serve a very poignant purpose, according to the OLPH School development director.

“For Donna, the cross became a tangible reminder of the school’s rich history, evoking memories of the countless steps, programs, and games that unfolded on the gym floor throughout the years. This symbolic representation resonated with multiple generations, encapsulating the spirit of community and shared experiences,” Ms. Clifford said.

Upgrades at OLPH also include a generous gift of new lighting for the school. Ms. Clifford credited the contribution of lighting to Green Owl Energy.

“A huge shoutout to Green Owl Energy for their support and commitment to making our learning environment better and more eco-friendly. We’re incredibly grateful for their contribution, which has made a significant difference in our daily school experience. Thank you for illuminating our future,” Ms. Clifford said.

She noted that the upgrade isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about sustainability, too.

“LED lights are much more energy-efficient, meaning we’re not just enjoying better lighting, but we’re also reducing our carbon footprint. It’s a win-win for our school and the environment,” she added. “During this season of giving, we feel incredibly blessed and grateful for the amazing gifts bestowed upon our school throughout the school year.”

Ms. Clifford said the lighting upgrade is already benefiting 14 classrooms, six offices, and four hallways.

Anyone wanting to participate in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School’s project to upgrade facilities can contact Ms. Clifford at

At Sacred Heart Cathedral School, a major renovation project to upgrade the gymnasium, performing-arts wing, and outdoor athletics field began in 2023 and was completed at the end of the year.

Mary Mac Wilson, chief operating officer for the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Sacred Heart Cathedral School, said replacing the gym floor was part of the project.

“Included in the project are new flooring, updated paint, a new concession stand, updated bathrooms and locker rooms, and new scoreboards. For the performing-arts section, we are getting a new audiovisual system. We also had a donor step up to provide a turf field,” Ms. Wilson said.

As part of the project, hardwood pieces of the old gym floor were used to make small crosses that Sacred Heart Cathedral School supporters could have for a donation.

“We came up with the idea to use some of the wood from the old gym floor to make 100 crosses because of all the memories. It gave the families an opportunity to have a piece of history and invite them to participate in the continued legacy. On the back of each cross is written ‘SHCS 1994-2023 Gym Floor’ and the Scripture quote from Isaiah 40:31: ‘They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint,’” Ms. Wilson said.

She noted that cathedral parish members, teachers, and students collaborated to make the project possible.

“We sold out the crosses by preorder before they were made. It was very successful,” Ms. Wilson said. “Everything we do works to create disciples through worship, formation, and service. The cross is a symbol of our faith and permeates all aspects of our school.”

She encouraged anyone who would like to support the cathedral school project to contact school development director Elisa Crawford at

Ms. Crawford said the project to make crosses from the old gym floor has resonated with the Sacred Heart Cathedral School Eagles alumni.

“The selling of the gym floor crosses was a very heartfelt fundraiser. This gave families an opportunity to support our new gym and performing-arts center while also gaining a piece of our old gym where they made wonderful memories,” Ms. Crawford said.

“Alums bought crosses to remember their time in the old gym; grandparents bought them to support their grandchildren; and parents who watched their children grow up playing or cheering on the court bought them as well,” Ms. Crawford shared. “I even bought one and have it on my office shelf as a reminder of what was there and what we have to look forward to. Every cross sold holds a special story to that individual who now owns it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *