By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

At the tender age of five, Rolly Bruce developed a fascination of working with wood, and by 10 artwork he had captured his imagination.  

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Father Paul McDuffie, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula listens as artist Rolly Bruce, left, describes techniques he used in refurbishing the Stations of the Cross at the church. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

More than six decades later, his creativity continues to fuel his passion, even after a career that has seen the Harvey native design carnival floats, murals on the side of vans and even barnstorming around the country in a trailer that he and his wife purchased selling air-brushed T-shirts.  

“It’s great to be able to hand a kid a T-shirt,” he said.   

Perhaps his best work, however, is his indelible signature his artwork has forever placed on St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula. Bruce has refinished two statues, each more than 100 years old, brought back to life a Nativity and designed the glass artwork near the entrance of the main area of the church that features the Holy Spirit.  

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A great deal of time went into matching the colors, but Bruce was able to bring to life each step of Jesus’ final journey. 

 

Bruce recently put the final brush strokes on his most ambitious project to date, restoring the church’s Stations of the Cross. The stations are believed to be from the late-1800s or early 1900s, according to pastor Father Paul McDuffie.    

They were originally purchased in 2006 when the parish built a new church, and although their origin is unknown, they did arrive with the writing on each station in Polish, which has since been repainted in English.  

“I look around (the church) and look at the stations and think who would have ever thought I would do that,” said Bruce, a humble man whose passion for his work is as evident as his deep faith.  

“(Bruce’s) work is beautiful,” Father McDuffie said. “We knew the (refurbishing) needed to be done so we contacted him. Everything he has done in the church is beautiful.”  

Indeed, time had taken its toll on the stations, including one in particular where Jesus had lost his hand.  

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Bruce designed the glass near the entrance to the church. When standing at the latter, the reflection allows the person to see the Holy Spirit, the cross and the resurrection all lined up in perfect harmony.  

 

After consultation on paint colors and other details, the artist went to work, taking two stations home at a time, where he worked on them several hours a day. He said he was able to complete two stations a week until he developed shingles after the 10th Station.  

Consequently, it took nearly six weeks and working through a great deal of pain to complete the next two stations, including, the 12th Station, which is the crucifixion. 

Bruce said perhaps it was fitting the disease struck him at that time, saying the pain of the shingles paled in comparison in what Jesus was forced to endure. 

“I had to remove lots of flecks, peeling chips, and there was a lot of plaster,” he said. 

He used a darker stain between the fingers and other crevices, giving the pieces an even more authentic flair.  

The final result is breathtaking, as Bruce was able to bring to life each step of Jesus’ final hours.  

“They really help people live their faith,” said parishioner Mile Fulmer, who searched e-bay to find the stations.  

When asked if he takes pride in the fact that people visiting St. Joseph during the next several decades will still be admiring his work, Bruce simply replied, “I’ll be in heaven.” 

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During refurbishing of the statues, Bruce had to replace a hand on Jesus on one of the stations. He used the hand of another person on the statue to form the new hand for Jesus, and the result turned out seamless.