When professional woodcarver Paul Sirba received a request from Bishop-elect Andrew Cozzens to make a crosier, he learned that a bishop’s influence — and word of mouth — reaches beyond a diocese.
In 2009, Sirba, 26, of St. Paul, carved a crosier — or pastoral staff — for his uncle, Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, whom Bishop-elect Cozzens knows from seminary. The crosier symbolizes a bishop’s responsibility to lead his flock to Christ.
“It’s such an honor to supply bishops with what they need,” Sirba said. “I’m so [grateful] to God to use my talent for the good of the Church.”
In the three weeks Sirba has worked on the commissioned piece, he has used about 150 tools and put in 80 hours of his time in order to complete it before Bishop-elect Cozzens’ ordination Dec. 9.
“Every time I stop to do something else, it draws me back,” he said. “Deadlines can be taxing, but it’s a joy to do this work. In prayer I’ve asked St. Joseph and our Lord for guidance and inspiration.”
Sirba begins the creation process with sketches and getting dimensions. The size of the crosier is based on the person’s height, usually as tall as the individual. Sirba researches symbolism and the Church’s guidelines for the specific piece. Then, once the design is sketched, he transfers it onto carving paper and begins sawing. The final steps include sanding, applying a spray finish and letting the crosier set and cure.
Bishop-elect Cozzens’ crosier, made of white oak, includes symbolic design elements in the coat of arms — among them, mountains and rivers signifying his Colorado roots; the Sacred Heart; and the motto he chose, “Praebe nobis cor tuum” (Lend us your heart).
At age 15, Sirba’s mom, who does cabinetry, introduced him to woodcarving. What started as making swords and battleships for his brothers turned into creating architectural pieces and religious artifacts under the guidance of his teacher, a classic Greek woodcarver in Minneapolis.
“I was fascinated by it,” Sirba said. “So I pleaded for a set of professional tools and classes.”
After carving for three years, Sirba served as an apprentice for three and a half years. He has been in the profession for five years and now works full time with his teacher. He has completed benches and crosses
for St. Maron in Minneapolis. During a pilgrimage to Italy, he was captivated by the architecture and seeks inspiration from it.
In creating religious objects, Sirba has gained a greater understanding of his Catholic faith and appreciation of priests’ work.
“Having two uncles as priests [his other uncle is Father Joseph Sirba]introduces you into a circle of friends that you normally wouldn’t have,” Sirba said.
At dinners his grandmother would host for his uncles and their fellow priests, Sirba saw their “real” side. He said this has helped him approach priests for guidance about life issues. He also has learned about their needs and how they function when celebrating Mass, so he is able to better create the pieces they’ll use.
“God wants me working with priests,” he said. “[My uncles] are so supportive in my artistic field. Through them and their commissioned projects, it has been my channel in which to be introduced to the rest of the archdiocese.”
Sirba has brought his work to home and garden shows, but said it’s a different atmosphere. He prefers to work on religious artifacts and considers it a blessing.
“Working with the Church, the people are more understanding and have the same values,” he said.
Along with the faithful, Sirba plans to attend Bishop-elect Cozzens’ ordination Mass at 2 p.m. on Monday Dec. 9 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Seating and parking at the Cathedral are limited. There are two off-site parking options:
- The St. Paul College parking ramp – $5
- The Minnesota History Center parking lot – $5
The event will be live streamed on http://www.archspm.org and carried live on local Metro Cable Channel 6. The ceremony also will be broadcast live with commentary by Paul Sadek on Relevant Radio 1330 AM and via online streaming at Relevant Radio, keyword “bishop.”