Persons, places and things: Crucifix story moves to next chapter


By Barb Arland-Fye

An antique metal crucifix about 23 inches long had been left for me at the front desk of diocesan headquarters. When I claimed it, a sense of déjà vu occurred. Was this crucifix identical to the one hanging in my office; the one I found in the maintenance department, received permission to take and refinish with tender loving care earlier this summer?

At first glance, the corpus on this crucifix matched the one in my office.  The cream-colored paint had worn off in the same spots – Jesus’ crown of thorns, his nose, hands and toes. The halo above his head matched. Bounding upstairs to my office, I compared the two crucifixes. The one hanging on my wall has a wooden cross with decorative metal pieces adorning the four corners.  But there’s no question the corpuses came from similar metal molds.

Examining the metal crucifix front to back, I found a sepia-toned business card tucked into the space where the horizontal and vertical beams meet. The card, decorated on both sides with rosary beads and flower petals read: “Compliments of The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa. This beautiful Crucifix absolutely free with two new, paid in advance yearly subscriptions.”

When did The Catholic Messenger give away crucifixes as a promotion to sell subscriptions? Msgr. Frank Henricksen, who was editor of The Catholic Messenger for some 35 years before my time and who has been a priest of the Davenport Diocese for 56 years, said he’d never heard of such a promotion.


I did a Google search for J.P. Foley Co., Galesburg, Ill., the name embossed on the back of the metal crucifix. That led to eBay, where a crucifix identical to the metal one had a winning bid of $20.50.

Anne Marie Amacher, The Catholic Messenger’s assistant editor, did additional sleuthing; she emailed her contacts at The  Catholic Post in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., where Galesburg is located.

“I found the grandson of JP Foley and his story is below. I hope it sheds some light on your mysterious crucifix,” emailed Sonia Nelson, The Catholic Post’s advertising manager. It turns out Jim Foley’s grandfather, JP, founded Foley Mortuary. While running that company, he started a business that manufactured products for use by funeral homes, including crucifixes.

“They are still around and from time to time I’ll see a ‘Foley’ Crucifix in an antique store!  Many of us eight Foley kids have one,” Jim wrote in an email to Sonia.

Jim’s brother, Dan Foley, in another email wrote that the crucifixes were hung in every hospital room at the Catholic hospital in Galesburg. Families of the deceased also received a crucifix at every funeral. JP ran the hardware business simultaneously with his funeral business. “In those days, funerals were not one-stop shopping,” Jim wrote.  “To my knowledge, (JP’s) hardware business closed with his passing.  The castings for the crucifix were kept for years but were later discarded.”

I’m not a detective, but I’m guessing the crucifix hanging on my wall is a sibling to the metal crucifix that Father Stephen Page of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield left for me at the front desk a couple of weeks ago. He found the crucifix in a back drawer in the sacristy of the old St. Mary’s church building.

I’m wondering how many Catholic Messenger readers might own a JP Foley crucifix. Please send an email or letter with the story of your crucifix to share with other readers. My email address is My postal address is: The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804. Or call me at (563) 888-4246.

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8 thoughts on “Persons, places and things: Crucifix story moves to next chapter

  1. I recently received a Foley crucifix from my mother who ran a thrift store for her parish in Nebraska. It had been donated years before. I also recently read of one found in a landfill in Rapid City, SD. It, apparently, went at auction for a few hundred dollars. Unimportant, but it shows these crucifixes are a treasure and mine is proudly displayed in my living room.

  2. I have one that is from my great grandmother’s estate…same pressed metal (tin?) corpus is cream colored paint over metal (Tin or lead or alloy), ~2ft tall. Legend is that it either came to my Great-Great-Granmother Bentz on her funeral or after a donation to the Catholic Messenger or similar circa 1913-1923 +/-.

  3. I was just given a J. P. Foley crucifix for our annual dinner marketplace which receives donations for the education of seminarians in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (Missouri) and Conception Seminary College. Our area has 65 seminarians this year, and an enrollment at Conception of 92.
    This cross is painted off-white and the corpus looks very much like bronze…some of the paint has peeled off the cross, exposing the tin.
    I’m happy to discover its origin!!

  4. I also have a J.P. Foley crucifix which I remember hanging on the wall over my grandmother\\\’s bed more than 50 years ago. The metal cross itself is painted silver. The corpus is painted cream. Upon the passing of my grandmother, my mother became the owner and keeper of this beautiful crucifix. Since my mother\\\’s passing in 2010, the crucifix is in my possession. This next Sunday, I will donate it to the \\\”Living Word\\\” Church I attend since there is no cross in the front of the Church. I will make a copy of the letter above and tuck it into the back of the cross. This way, people will always know of the origins of this magnificent cross.

  5. My Father’s sister, just died at 91 (1924-2015). Her son, my first cousin, found a JP Foley crucifix that had adorned our Great Grandfather’s casket (died 3/12/1931). It appears that this crucifix was used for 3 other siblings, with the latest date being 5/7/1960.
    I remember something similar from my Mom’s side of the family and within it the crucifix was holy water and oil. I don’t detect anything in this one, but haven’t try to pry it apart.
    I think in the old Irish Catholic parish of my ancestors, (Georgetown, IA) getting a crucifix was part of having a funeral.
    The metal cross itself is painted silver. The Jesus corpus is painted cream with 3 red raised dots on the left chest, symbolizing blood, I suppose. Above the corpus is a raised relief, painted in 3 shades of gold, similar to the rays of a star.
    Thank you for posting the history.

  6. I am John Patrick Foley’s great grandson. JP and his son John Francis Foley (my grandfather) owned and operated the Foley Mortuary in Galesburg, Il. JP was an entrepreneur and inventor and one time President of the Illinois Funeral Director’s Association. In addition to manufacturing the Foley Crucifix he also invented and patented a locking casket handle.

    Most of my siblings have one of what has become to us a precious family heirloom. We feel blessed to know that this symbol of Christ’s sacrifice provided comfort to others during one of life’s darkest moments. The Crucifix was provided to family’s of the deceased at funerals.

    God Bless,

    1. Thank you for sharing that information, Ben! We appreciate hearing the rest of the story!

  7. Looked up Foley because I also have one of the Foley crosses. Story is the nuns gave my mom the cross when I was born. My brother had it until now and gave to me. I dont think I will paint it. I think I will keep in original state. So like the facts that I found out about it.

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