By SHARON BLACK, Special Contributor | Published March 24, 2005
One of the most universally recognized symbols of Christianity in the world, the cross serves as a powerful visual reminder of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for humanity. Imagine then, the impact that a beautiful collection of crosses might have on Catholic school students.
Mary Baxter, a seventh-grade teacher at Our Lady of the Assumption School, Atlanta, has amassed a collection of crosses and crucifixes from around the world. Displayed on a permanent bulletin board in her classroom, the collection began in the 1990s when she received two crosses, each one different, as gifts from students at Christmas. Every year since then she has received several more crosses as gifts.
This is a collection that needs no explanation but always generates a great deal of discussion.
“Many parents have shared with me the enjoyment their family experienced from the search process that took place as their child searched for a different and meaningful cross to add to my collection,” Baxter said. “And even though the collection was not my idea initially, I cannot think of another more appropriate collection for a Catholic school teacher to start! I have enjoyed it immensely and will always be grateful to those two students whose gifts started the collection.”
Some of the crosses are from local parishes her students attend. A cross made from straw comes by way of St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, and a beautiful Celtic cross is from St. Patrick Church in Norcross.
And crosses from far away have found their way into Baxter’s collection. Students have returned from summer vacations with crosses, such as a healing cross from the Bahamas and a hand-carved wooden Celtic cross from Ireland.
As the collection has grown, other people have taken interest and have been moved to contribute to her collection. A DeKalb County police officer, who had been giving a series of talks to her students, returned from Nigeria with a cross, which he proudly added to her collection. One of the school’s custodians from Mexico brought her back a contemporary crucifix after a visit home.
During the course of another year, Baxter’s students were corresponding with a school in Brazil, and the students there sent a beautiful Brazilian cross. Even other faculty members have contributed to the collection with a variety of crosses they have found in their travels.
The materials and designs of the crosses vary greatly. One cross, from Tybee Island, is made of sand and seashells. Another cross is composed of marble quarried in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem only a small amount of marble can be quarried each year, and government regulations require each piece to be numbered, so Baxter’s Jerusalem cross includes a little registration number on the back.
In determining a title for her bulletin board of crosses, Baxter was influenced by trips to visit her daughter, Emily, in northern New Mexico. Her daughter attended Santa Cruz a la Cañada, a 350-year-old adobe mission church located on an old Spanish trail connecting Taos with Santa Fe.
Baxter considered the Spanish phrase “la cañada,” which means “dry river bed” when literally translated. However, in New Mexico, since dry riverbeds are actually used as roads, the term has also come to mean “road” or “way.” So she entitled her bulletin board “Santa Cruz de la Cañada,” which translates in English as “the road (way) of the Holy Cross.”
Taylor Foster and Sophie Conboy, seventh-grade students in Mrs. Baxter’s homeroom class, said, “The crosses that Mrs. Baxter has in her classroom are very interesting. Each one has a special story behind it, which we enjoy her sharing with us.”
Dr. Joan Tiernan, principal at OLA, said, “Mrs. Baxter is not only a creative and dedicated teacher but a devout Catholic. She sets a wonderful example for her students.”
Having been a teacher at OLA for 25 years, Baxter appreciates being in a setting where she has the opportunity to display her cross collection in the classroom. At present, her collection contains 36 crosses. As the collection continues to grow in number, she hopes that it will continue to impress and inspire her students to follow their faith.