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Tom Haley remembers painting the old crosses.
In October 2007, Haley and his 7th grade classmates painted more than 100 unfinished scrap wood crosses that were donated to Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) School. The students were joined by adults on the school’s spiritual growth committee, including Maria Haley, Tom Haley’s mother.
At the time, he was also a 12-year-old First Class Scout in IHM’s Boy Scouts of America Troop 200, the troop in which each of his three older brothers either had or would soon earn his Eagle Scout rank.
Through the years, Haley noticed that the brittle crosses, which the school continued to display each October, had dwindled in number through breakage. The ones that remained had become worn and needed replacement.
So when it came time for Haley, now a 17-year-old senior at Catholic Central High School and a Life Scout, to choose his Eagle Scout Service Project, he decided to replenish IHM’s Respect Life Month crosses using sturdier material.
Haley led a team of 14 Scouts and eight adult volunteers from Troop 200 to construct 175 crosses out of PVC pipes in the garage and driveway of his parents’ Kentwood home on the afternoon of Sunday, October 7.
Students from IHM School placed 152 of the new crosses into the lawn Friday afteroon after classes. The number of crosses reflects the number of abortions performed each hour in the United States.
With the Tigers' playoff game playing in the background, Haley’s crew spent the first hour of Sunday afternoon's project cleaning off the writing on the pipes by rubbing them with acetone.
The Scouts and volunteers then sawed the pipes into appropriate lengths, inserted the cut pieces into four-way PVC pipe fittings to form the crosses, and capped each cross at three ends.
The crew worked continually through the afternoon, breaking briefly for a collective cheer at 3:35 when the Tigers' Don Kelly drove in the winning run against the Oakland Athletics with a walkoff sacrifice fly.
The Scouts and volunteers then vacuumed up the dust and organized the crosses before concluding the event with dinner.
After dinner, Haley, a small group leader for IHM Parish’s junior high youth program who plans to study engineering in college, reflected on why he pursued this particular project.
"I've always felt strongly about abortion," he says. "I agree with what the Catholic Church teaches—that it's wrong."
Haley stated that he hopes his project will raise awareness about abortion.
"A lot of people don't know how many babies are aborted every day," he says. "My project is a good way to educate people about the magnitude of abortion and how many lives it affects."
Maria Haley anticipates that the crosses will testify effectively to the cause they represent.
"I think his project will be a very visible statement on the value of human life," she says. "I'm very proud of him," she adds.
Mike Haley, Tom Haley's father, expressed happiness that Tom Haley had pursued "a pro-life project."
"I think it's fantastic," he says. "It helps raise the awareness level with the youth that there is more to life than just what the pop culture has to offer."
Pat Schemmel, Troop 200's Scoutmaster and a member of IHM Parish, commended Haley for reimagining and strengthening IHM's Burton Street cross display.
"He's found a way to make a more permanent structure," she says. "They won't disintegrate--the message won't disintegrate."
Haley's project reflects Troop 200's strong relationship with its sponsoring church and its school. Like Schemmel, most of Troop 200's Scouts and adult leaders are members at IHM, and many of the troop's Scouts attend or graduated from IHM Catholic School, which educates children through the eighth grade.
Amy Hamilton, co-chair of the school's spiritual growth committee, views Haley's project in part as a culmination of his relationship with the school.
"The crosses . . . will stand as a testimony not only to our faith but also what the elementary school meant to him," she says.
And Haley's concern for Catholic teaching is echoed by other Scouts in the troop.
James Nachtegall, Troop 200's Senior Patrol Leader, helped make the crosses Sunday. He specifically noted he was pleased that Haley's project expresses his religious convictions.
"I think it's great that he's gone outside the sphere of safe projects and done something that shows his moral beliefs," says Nachtegall, a homeschooled high school senior who plans to study Catholic moral theology and philosophy in college.
Haley's PVC cross endeavor may be an atypical Eagle Scout project, but Nachtegall suggests that it fits Troop 200's ethos very well.
Nachtegall, who is also a Life Scout, begins directing his own Eagle Scout Service Project this coming Sunday.
David Urban is an English professor at Calvin College. Learn more about him at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/engl/faculty/urban/
Reports on: Human interest stories