Woodworker's generosity seen at schools, hospital, retreats

Franciscan Father Bill Cardy used a small wooden cross in giving a blessing to Oliver Schuler in a patient's room at St. Anthony's Medical Center. Schuler, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson, was recovering from a nine-hour back surgery.

"God be with you," Father Cardy said at the conclusion of the blessing. Father Cardy remarked that despite what he was going through, Schuler had a pleasant, even joyful attitude during their visits.

After the blessing, Father Cardy handed the cross -- a little smaller than the size of his hand -- to Schuler and told him it was his to keep. Later, the hospital chaplain used another cross in blessing Virginia Moreno who was doing rehab in another portion of the hospital.

The priest called it "a cross of hope." Asked later if she wanted to set it aside until finishing rehab, Moreno, a parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul in south St. Louis, clutched it and shook her head "no."

The cross is one of about 1,000 made of oak, cedar, cherry or sycamore by Leo Odendahl, a retired civil engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation. The St. David in Arnold parishioner's woodworking hobby has expanded into a ministry with the crosses. They're given to hospital patients, teachers using the Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline program and people on retreats. Odendahl also has donated his talents to his parish, especially a preschool program Holy Child School, a combined effort of St. David and Immaculate Conception parishes in Arnold.

Sign of the cross

Father Cardy, who walks about 10,000 steps a day visiting patients in the hospital, told of people he's blessed with the cross who were heavily sedated and seemed unaware until they made a sign of the cross to go with the blessing. He doesn't give the crosses to everyone, reserving them for patients most in need of prayers. One woman who had lost her eyesight caught up with him after he gave her a cross.

"I don't want to overstate it ... but she said she got her vision back three days after receiving the little cross," Father Cardy said, noting that she still had it in her pocket when she met up with him again.

He tells of similar experiences. A man who had a tumor in his head the size of a grape told him that the tumor disappeared. A woman whose car was hit head-on and was expected to live only hours is out of intensive care and is regaining her abilities. Another woman who fell headfirst down 10 stairs and was there for four days before she walked out of the hospital after a month. "I've always believed in the power of anointing," Father Cardy said. "You have to believe. I know God was a big partner" in their healing.

Odendahl brings Father Cardy 40 crosses at a time. They go to women with difficult pregnancies, people facing brain surgery and others facing critical health situations.

"Some spectacular things have happened," Father Cardy said, cautioning that not everyone who receives a cross will recover from their ailments and not discounting the medical professionals' role. "I never leave my office without two or three of these crosses. I might not give one away for three days, which is good, but it's become something special."

'I can make it'

Holy Child Preschool in Arnold is filled with creations that Odendahl made and donated. Included are tables, games, blocks, puzzles, listening centers, custom, adjustable shelves on rollers that fold for transport, cubbies and more. Jessica Whitlock, director of the preschool, had known the Odendahl family as fellow parishioners and received a set of blocks from him when her first child was born. His gifts extended into the preschool when he asked what he could do to help.

"He offered, and we took him up on the offer," Whitlock said with a laugh, acknowledging that he's gone far beyond what was expected.

"I just said, 'Anything you need, I can make it,'" Odendahl recalled. "They came up with a big list."

He makes geoboards that enable children to use fine motor skills to create letters, shapes and more with wood pegs, or dried pasta as pegs.

"We don't have textbooks," Whitlock explained. "We need manipulatives. We need to keep 4-year-olds busy, so we give them small activities, ways to increase their fine motor skills and gross motor skills. That's what Mr. Odendahl has done for us. Out of the kindness of his heart, he has helped us to succeed in educating children in our preschool."

Some of the pieces he has made are similar to what is available in catalogues at a cost of hundreds of dollars, Whitlock said. The school has reimbursed him only for a small amount, to cover the cost of materials. He has become a part of the school. "The kids think the world of him," she said.

The thanks he receives and seeing the children learning are payment enough for Odendahl. On a recent visit, he helped build a structure with blocks, showing he's never far from his engineering skills. "Let's put it on the floor, then you can reach it," he told 4-year-olds Frankie Ford and Ainsley Kerr. "You can build it, putting one on top of another."

Odendahl's crosses also are used by teachers in the Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline program used in Catholic schools in St. Louis and elsewhere. They help set a peaceful tone. They also are used by parish groups on retreats, a Bible study group and more.

In his basement, Odendahl is at home in his neatly organized workshop with equipment such as a table saw, drill press, planer, turning lathe, router, joiner, sanders and more. Asked why a circle is cut into the center of the back of the crosses, he explained that it's a circle of love. "It never stops," he said.


Blessings are called "sacramentals" because they prepare us to receive the grace of the sacraments and help us to grow to be more like Christ ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," 1670).

People are accustomed to seeing bishops, priests and deacons blessing objects or persons in the name of the Church. Indeed, "the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," 1669), often with the participation of the local parish community gathered in prayer. Whenever an ordained minister is present, he should be called upon to give the blessing.

However, there are other blessings, such as the ones contained in "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers," that can be prayed by anyone who has been baptized, "in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they possess because of their baptism and confirmation" ("Book of Blessings," 18). The blessings given by laypersons are exercised because of their special office, such as parents on behalf of their children.

Right after telling his disciples to "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," Jesus instructs them to "bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:28). St. Paul echoes the Lord's command when he exhorts the Romans to "bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12:14). St. Peter urges that each time we are on the receiving end of evil, we should return "a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9).

This is why the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" tells us that "every baptized person is called to be a 'blessing,' and to bless" (no. 1669; see Genesis 12:2; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9).

Like the Lord into whom they have been baptized, parents should bless and pray for their children. Each one of us should remember the sick and those who suffer. Each time we gather around the family table, we should bless God and the food He has given us. On special occasions, we will observe the traditions of the season, sanctifying by prayer and blessing all the seasons of grace that God has given to us.

From "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers" 


Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare people to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

Among the sacramentals, blessings occupy an important place. They include both praise of God for his works and gifts, and the Church's intercession for men that they use God's gifts according to the spirit of the Gospel.

In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1677-79

Blessings for objects

We bless objects for many reasons, including blessing icons or other images or objects in a household to use as a part of regular prayer. For various blessings, including blessing of a Christmas manger or nativity scene, Christmas tree, Advent wreath or home and household on Epiphany, visit www.stlouisreview.com/TA9. 

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