June 15, 2012

Carving a place in the heart

Religious creations help brothers continue to shape parents’ legacy of faith, family

The Weberding brothers stand by the 10-foot high, 400-pound carving of the Holy Family that they created in honor of their late parents, William J. and Monica Weberding. The brothers—Tim, left, William G., right foreground, and Terry, right background—have continued to operate the Weberding Carving Shop in Batesville that their father started 70 years ago. (Submitted photo)

The Weberding brothers stand by the 10-foot high, 400-pound carving of the Holy Family that they created in honor of their late parents, William J. and Monica Weberding. The brothers—Tim, left, William G., right foreground, and Terry, right background—have continued to operate the Weberding Carving Shop in Batesville that their father started 70 years ago. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

BATESVILLE—When the 10-foot-high, 400-pound wood carving of the Holy Family was unveiled before a large crowd, the five children of William J. and Monica Weberding watched with a mixture of joy, pride and deep emotion.

For 70 years, members of the Weberding family have prided themselves on the one-of-a-kind religious carvings and creations that their company has made for many parishes across the archdiocese and even the country.

Indeed, the approach of the family business has always been that each work of art and each restoration effort tells part of the story of the parish or the person who requested it.

Like the Catholic owner of a public golf course who wanted to create a grotto in honor of the Blessed Mother near one of the holes, and a statue depicting Jesus with two children near the clubhouse.

Or the extensive effort involved in re-creating the beautifully ornate partition wall behind the altar of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Indianapolis after a fire gutted the church in 2001.

Still, the huge carving of the Holy Family—the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and the baby Jesus—reflects the most personal story for the Weberdings, longtime members of St. Louis Parish in Batesville.

It’s a story that began 90 years ago when a 6-year-old boy received a special gift as he began his recovery from pneumonia and an appendectomy.

Carving a place in the heart

The year was 1922, and the boy was William J. “Bill” Weberding. As for the gift, no one expected that it would change Bill’s life and shape future generations of the Weberding family, but it did.

Bill’s father gave him the gift—a set of chisels and wood—to help him pass the time during his recovery. But his interest in woodcarving continued long after he recovered, and he became an apprentice at a furniture company in Batesville in 1932 when he was 16.

He spent his evenings carving religious statues. After a few years, a young woman from the neighborhood, Monica Dirks, carved a place in his heart. They were married in 1940. Two years later, he started the Weberding Carving Shop, building it from the orders for statues and religious carvings that he received from priests in the area.

“The shop started in a little 10-foot by 12-foot building,” notes Tim Weberding, one of the five children of Bill and Monica, along with William G., Terry, Mary Anne and Shirley. “My dad worked all day, every day.”

Both their family and the business were built on a foundation of faith.

“They were very Catholic and very religious,” Tim says. “They wanted us to have the religious, Catholic upbringing. They did a lot for the community. Every Christmas, they would decorate the property with Nativity scenes, the three kings, the Holy Family and lots of lights.”

Their father also shared his gift for carving with his children.

“He gave us all chisels, and we’d be working with him late at night,” Terry recalls.

“He was my professor,” Tim says. “Sometimes he would tell you that you had to start over. He was very gentle about it, but it made you mad. Yet, you knew he was right. There are still times when those words stick in the back of your mind.”

The three sons continued in the family business, complementing each other in their talents. William G. is now the president of the company. Terry is a master cabinet and furniture maker. Tim is a master wood carver.

“We were raised to treat people right and do things to the best of our ability,” says William G. “Bill” Weberding. “Our father always said that if you give people respect, they’ll give it back to you. That’s the way he ran the business, too. For us to follow in his footsteps is a great thing.”

A legacy that endures

Even in his retirement and his later failing health, their father kept coming every day to the woodworking shop, which has grown to 22,000 square feet today. He also attended Mass every day.

Surrounded by their children and grandchildren, he and his wife celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in 2005, the year he died. Three years later, Monica passed away. Their commitment to their family, its business and their faith remains their legacy.

The family’s talent and influence have beautified churches across the archdiocese, including the restoration effort at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Indianapolis that still makes Tim glow.

“It was a major job for a small shop of 10 [employees],” he says. “We do the things that most people don’t want to mess with or don’t have the people who can do what we do. It was a year’s project for our shop. It was very rewarding for us.”

So was the opportunity to create a grotto at Cricket Ridge Golf Course in Franklin County, a public course owned by Dan Tekulve, a member of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg.

“Dan cut down a lot of trees and said he wanted to make a Madonna and Child from it,” Tim says. “We did that for him, and a statue of Jesus with the children. Someone made a comment that this was a public golf course, and there were religious statues on it. Dan said, ‘If they don’t like it, they don’t have to play golf here.’ Of course, that never stopped a golfer.”

Tekulve says, “Tim did a great job. It was just something I thought I had to do. I believe in the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

The Weberdings have created Stations of the Cross for St. Louis Church in Batesville, an 8-foot-high corpus and cross for Our Lady of the Greenwood Church in Greenwood, and a statue of the Blessed Mother with children at St. Mary Church in North Vernon.

Other parishes that have benefited from their skills include St. Anne Parish in New Castle, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute, and St. John the Evangelist Parish, St. Simon the Apostle Parish and Good Shepherd Parish, all in Indianapolis.

“The quality of their work is superb,” says Franciscan Father David Kobak, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg. “That quality of craftsmanship is so hard to find in the United States anymore. They do really quality work by hand.”

A gift of love, family and faith

Their approach to their faith is similar, says their pastor.

“They’re very faithful,” says Father Randall Summers, pastor of St. Louis Parish in Batesville. “I think they view their business not only as a business, but [also] as a ministry to the Church. They’re just good people.”

They’re also people who are amazed by the blessings that have come from a long-ago gift of wood and chisels, and their parents’ legacy of faith and family.

“It’s amazing to us that the business has held together this long,” Tim says. “We hope it continues on. My brother, Bill, has two sons—Brian and Colt—who are very interested in this, and they work here full time. We’re always trying new things and coming up with new designs.”

The creation they most embrace as a family is the 10-foot-high, 10-foot-wide, 400-pound wood carving of the Holy Family. They view it as a tribute to their faith, their family’s 70 years of business, and the love and example of their parents.

“We wanted a nice, big wood carving because that’s what the business started as,” Tim says. “It’s going to stay there as a permanent fixture of the business. It’s because my parents were so Christmas-oriented. And they loved kids, their grandkids and the Batesville community.”

When the carving was unveiled in late 2011, the moment overflowed with emotion for the Weberding children.

“It was overwhelming—a lot of emotions. Satisfaction, pride, a feeling of success,” Bill says. “It’s such a beautiful piece. With my dad being a very religious man, I think he would be overwhelmed by the beauty of it and the reason for doing it. I think our parents would be very proud of what we did because we did it for them.” †

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