Deep in the heart of Texas, a campus chaplain is busy making his final spiritual and practical preparations for becoming a bishop.
However, unlike many of his soon-to-be brother-bishops, Fr. David Konderla is carving his very own staff – or crosier – to signify his new position and duty as a teacher and head of a diocese.
“Every Jedi has not completed his training until he’s made his own light saber that he uses to fight evil with – so this is my light saber,” Bishop-elect David Konderla told CNA in an interview.
On June 29, Fr. David Konderla will be ordained and installed as the Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Currently, the Bishop-elect serves as the Director of Campus Ministry for St. Mary’s Catholic Center, the campus chaplaincy for Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
A crosier is a hooked staff – based on the shape of a shepherd's staff – carried by bishops in the Catholic Church to symbolize their pastoral function in the Church. Other important symbols of a bishop’s position are the pectoral cross worn on a bishop’s chest, the mitre- or hat, and the episcopal ring.
“Of course it was natural when I found out I was going to be made a bishop that I would want to make my own myself,” Fr. Konderla said.
He noted that he's already made four crosiers in the past for his soon-to-be brother bishops: Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Bishop George Sheltz, Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas; Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo; and Bishop Daniel Garcia, Auxiliary Bishop of Austin, Texas.
Bishop-elect Konderla’s own crosier will be the fifth he'll construct.
Previously, Fr. Konderla has used wood that bears special significance to the bishop-elect in constructing the crosier. For instance, when making the crosier for Bishop Sis, Fr. Konderla used the wood from the front yard of the rectory at St. Mary's Catholic Center, where they were both serving as priests at the time.
For his own crosier, the bishop-elect will be able to take a bit of the campus’s Catholic Center with him as well: he said he was able to use trees which were taken down to build the campus’s new student center in his own staff. “I was able to incorporate some of that wood into this crosier so it will have that special meaning.”
The bottom sections of the crosier will be detachable so the staff can fit easily into a traveling case. This part of the staff’s construction was relatively simple, forming the pieces by turning the rod on a lathe to cut and shape it. However, forming the crosier’s hook is a more involved process he said..
To start the hook’s formation, the bishop-elect took thinly-sliced strips of wood, called laminations, and placed them in a steam box powered by the steam from a tea kettle on his stovetop. Once the strips were softened by the steam, the laminations can be shaped by quickly bending them around a form and left to cool, he elaborated. After cooling, these strips can maintain their shape long enough to be glued together with other bent wood strips, in order to finish the shaping process.
This block of molded strips of laminate is called a blank, Fr. Konderla continued, an “ugly” square piece of wood. However, this shaped block of wood is what will then be whittled and smoothed into its final, hooked, form.
The bishop-elect is also using the same process to create rings, or “beads” of different-colored woods to decorate the staff of the crosier. The beads on the crosier will be made of three strips of different-colored woods, an element which Konderla sees as “representing the trinity.”
After all the pieces are carved and shaped, the staff will be stained and polished, resulting in its final form.
Bishop-elect Konderla’s episcopal ring will also have a special meaning, and the soon-to-be bishop will also have a hand in making it. His youngest brother is a jeweler, Konderla and together the pair designed a ring based on St. Pope John Paul II’s fisherman’s ring. The ring will also incorporate elements from Konderla’s devotions to the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy and Mary, as well as gold from their mother’s wedding ring.
The bishop-elect’s brother has made a model of the ring, and next will make a mold that will be filled with the gold. Then, Fr. Konderla explained, his brother will add final touches such as adding the heart-shaped stone and carving elements into the ring.
Fr. Konderla said that he sees this project of creating his own crosier fitting and reflective of the beauty God creates in the world.
“Art is expressive of the divine,” and woodwork in particular is an art form that must respect God’s own beautiful creations, he said.
“The nice thing about working in wood is that even a dead tree, in a way is a living medium. The wood does simply do whatever you want, but you have to cooperate with the kind of medium that it is.”
While the creation of the crosier might be one of the last woodworking projects he creates before his ordination, Bishop-elect Konderla looks forward to taking his love of woodworking with him to his new residence in Tulsa.
He said he’s already visited his new residence, and was happy to see that it has a two-car garage – just large enough to fit his woodworking workshop.
Correction, June 8, 2016, 09:19: A previous version of this article stated that Father Konderla had made a crosier for Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, rather than Bishop Sis of San Angelo.