Nathan Ward inspects a nearly finished corpus of Christ that he hand carved over three years, despite having no prior experience in the medium. (courtesy photo)

As Xavier College Preparatory students hit mid semester, they have no excuse for not trying new things that might be outside their comfort zone. Art teacher Nathan Ward has been in their shoes.

He spent three years chiseling away wood that finally revealed a new corpus for the crucifix in the Chapel of Our Lady at Xavier. He completed it in June and installed before students returned to campus in August. It joins the other carved pieces of the altar and ambo and completes the chapel’s interior.

“There are so many anecdotes from my time working on this piece,” Ward said about his soft maple corpus. “I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish it. I eventually asked Jesus to guide my hands and they became his power tools for the carving.”

Never having carved a sculpture with mallet and chisel, Ward worried about using hand tools while mastering the technique on the carving. “The only time I got cut, I was carving the crown of thorns.”

His greatest challenge was carving the drooping head with all the technical aspects involved in that portion of the corpus. The most rewarding aspect was the moment he figured out how to carve the loin cloth. “There was a palpable ‘Aha’ moment when I could visualize the folds of the cloth in the wood and understood how to make it a realistic representation of the soft, pliable material of cloth in the hard, stable material of wood.”

Ward hadn’t contemplated the corpus of Christ on the cross so much since a Xavier pilgrimage to Lourdes a few years ago. “While there, I was struck by the life size crucifixes and got a lump in my throat when I saw them. I got the same lump in my throat when I saw the corpus installed in the Xavier chapel,” Ward said. “I do believe that after this project, no one knows Jesus better than I do.”