Handcrafted cross donated to St. Francis School an important symbol in gathering place

A six-foot handcrafted cross has been donated to St. Francis School and is located in the gymnasium, which is an important gathering place in the school. /Michael Oleksyn, LJI Reporter/Daily Herald

Over the February break there was an important symbol put in place at St. Francis School in Prince Albert. Maintenance from the Prince Albert Catholic School Division placed a handcrafted cross in the school’s gymnasium.

The cross was crafted by St. Francis Principal Richard Rapin’s brother. It was the last stage of a large renovation beginning in 2019 when a flood swept through the school.

“In the middle of the summer, we knew we needed a cross at that particular time to finish off our gym because it is the largest gathering place in our school,” Richard said.

The other parts of the renovation included painting and new flooring. The gymnasium is currently in use as the place for physical education classes.

The gymnasium serves as much more than just a place for sports. It acts as a gathering place for important events at the school including events such as liturgies, Grade 8 farewells and other milestones.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is not possible but when the pandemic is over, staff and students will once again gather in the space to celebrate together.

“So we wanted a special cross for our gym and I approached my brother Phil who has made a number of them in Saskatoon and I asked him if he would be willing to build a cross for our gym and he said absolutely,” Richard said.

“He phoned me a couple weeks later and I drove up to Saskatoon. I picked it up and our school division maintenance department mounted it on the wall. It sits there today and will be a permanent symbol in our school for decades to come.”

He explained that there is a cross in every room in the school and this large cross suits the size of the gymnasium. This particular cross is nearly six feet tall and placed in a place of prominence next to both the stage and a Prayer of St. Francis, the Patron Saint of the school.

“It really is a symbol that grabs every person’s eye when they walk into the gymnasium,” he said.

Phil Rapin has constructed a number of crosses located across Saskatoon where he is also employed as a teacher in the Catholic School system. Richard mused that when he enters buildings in Saskatoon he often wonders if his brother crafted the cross.

The brothers are both originally from Prince Albert. Richard explained that once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, there will be a celebration of the cross overlooked by the Parish Priest for St. Francis.

Richard explained that his brother did not craft and donate the cross for any type of recognition.

“A cross is a tremendously important symbol in our Catholic faith, there is no getting around that and to have a cross in our school that is so visible is such a powerful symbol in our building,” Richard said.

The cross was crafted by Phil from wood and steel with a design that he found on the Internet.

He describes himself as a craftsman rather than an artist. He explained that he took the design and used a computer-driven steel cutting machine and cut the shape. The size of the design was too large for the machine and had to be done in two steps and welded together based on the original. He then polished the piece, cleaned it up, laminated a large piece of wood and traced and cut the wood.

Phil explained that when he saw the design he was immediately struck by the beauty of it. The original intent was to have a cross that was lit from the back, similar to another one that he has constructed.

Phil explained that the design represents more of a risen Jesus Christ as opposed to the crucified Jesus Christ.

“It’s just a different interpretation or look,” Phil said.

The cross was donated so as to not create extra paperwork and because it promoted what the Catholic faith stands for. The piece is about itself rather, than who constructed it.

Director of education Lorel Trumier detailed the cross to the regular board of education meeting on Monday and was proud to have it in a school in the division.

“To get a cross made with that size and with that level of craftsmanship and carpentry it’s really a gift to our Catholic education community at St. Francis,” Trumier said.