Editor’s Note: Matthew Chicoine interviewed John Kraemer via phone call on December 3, 2020. Some of the questions have been rearranged and edited to provide the best reader experience without losing any of the integrity of the answers given.
How the Lego Project got started?
My first project begin in 2003 and featured at Christ the Good Shepherd Church. It wasn’t until I started displaying my churches during the Christmas season (in year 4) that the Project took off.-
How do you pick the specific Catholic Church to build each year?
It has been a church of my own design. I wanted to combine the elements of modern church while keeping to tradition. I try to show the happy medium between the modern and traditional.
I try to keep things as accurate as I can. I will blend some real world elements. For examples, I have included items from Rugged Rosary (Crucifixes and Statue of Mary).
What is your favorite Lego display?
The Christmas display is one of my favorite and most important displays.
I build the displays in mid-February. It takes around a couple months for about 2-5 hours a day. I usually take a break after Easter. I usually tear down the Church at the end of the year. I sometimes save the tabernacle and ambo for later use.
How do you find inspiration with creating the Lego Churches?
Until I sit down with the bricks, I’m not quite sure where the story takes me.
I’m always looking, studying, getting ideas for what’s around me. How are things set up? Placement is everything for me. I review my previous projects all the time.
Did you play with Legos a lot as a kid?
Yes, while my friends were building spaceships I found myself constructing buildings. Eventually it developed into me making churches.
How does your work inspire others?
One priest was building a Vatican City and he was looking at my work to get an idea.
The Project is a prayer because it is also a reflection of where we’ve been and where we should be. My thoughts for this Christmas is an end to the pandemic.
Tell me a bit about your devotion to Blessed Solanus Casey.
The qualities that attracted him to me was his learning difficulties. His faithfulness and obedience. I learned about him as he was from Detroit and my parents grew up in Detroit. Grandma grew up across the street from the monastery. One of her wishes before he died was to see Blessed Solanus canonized.
Why is the Mass is important to you?
When we participate in the Mass we are part of something else. No matter what storms or challenges we face when we make the Mass our priority he say Jesus is our savior.
John Kraemer is a Catholic out of Saginaw, Michigan and has been building his annual “Lego Church Project” for over twenty years. With a focus on disability awareness.
It was a joy interviewing John and his work about the Lego Church Project. To learn more about his ministry follow his Facebook page at The Lego Church Project
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” stated Albert Camus the 20th century French Novelist. Fall is my favorite time of the year. Colorful leaves carpet the lawns in my neighborhood. I enjoy seeing the visible transformation occur on trees and watching animals prepare for winter. My wife’s birthday is during October—the middle of fall. I am indebted to God for the gift of my marriage. Without my wife, my fervor for Divine Mercy and St. Maria Faustina—her confirmation saint— may not exist!
Reflecting on autumn, my wife, and the Polish saint allowed for me to have a profound revelation: the first week of October contains an all-star line-up for saint feast days!
Five of my personal favorite saints, and historical favorites among Catholics as well, have a feast day in the first part of October. On top of this amazing realization, October is also dedicated to the Holy Rosary and respect for all life. I will be dedicating other posts on these topics so I will focus on the five feast days of five stellar saintly role models:
My children and I ask for the intercession of our guardian angels every night before bedtime. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 336, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” God sends his messengers from Heaven to keep us safe and remind us of His Presence.
Therese of Lisieux
According to St. Therese, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Known as the Little Flower, the saint’s words provide a fresh perspective on my daily living and struggles. As a person who focuses on problems as something to be overcome, I sometimes place an emphasis on the amount of effort I have to put forth on a task. I also struggle with desiring recognition toward my works. Instead, if I focus on love as St. Therese teaches us, my life will be more joyful!
Francis of Assisi
Francis serves as an example of holiness, but for me, it is a personal reminder for my college days. I attended Franciscan University graduate schooling. The legacy the Italian saint left on me is truly immeasurable.
His transformation from a wealthy individual to a beggar of Christ is tangible example of the Gospel lived out. Struggling with envy and greed myself, I am able to look to Francis of Assisi as a role model. Lord make me an instrument of peace like your servant Francis!
No other 20th century saint, besides John Paul II and Maximilian, has impacted me as much as St. Maria Faustina. Known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, the Polish nun is to the 20th century what St. Paul was to the 1st century Church—the evangelizer of truth to the Gentiles! Sister Faustina helped console my wife after her best friend from high school died by suicide.
The Polish sister led my wife to convert to the Catholic faith as well! She became instrumental in deepening my relationship with God over the past decade. St. Faustina is probably the biggest influence on viewing God first as a merciful Father as opposed to a vengeful Judge. Through St. Maria Faustina I heard God’s truth in her words, “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who our true friend is.”
Teresa of Avila
The final heroic example of holiness the first week of October is St. Teresa of Avila. Her life differs from Maria and Therese as the Spanish saint lived a much longer life. Teresa also experienced more of a 180°-type of conversion.
As a young adult, Teresa enjoyed the allure of the world. It wasn’t until her entry into the convent that the Spanish nun learned the importance of meditative prayer. Teresa’s The Interior Castle is a profound spiritual work that explores the vastness of our spiritual journey. This spiritual treatise has helped aid me on my journey.
While autumn is akin to a second springtime, my communion with the saints during October is like a second spiritual springtime for me. My guardian angel, Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Maria Faustina, and Teresa of Avila reflect God’s merciful and transforming love.
Through communion with these exemplary role models I am given hope that my personal vices of greed, envy, and pride are able to be overcome! The Church teaches “We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!” (CCC 957). I pray the communion of saints will continue to guide you in your path toward holiness and ultimately lead us closer to God.
Obviously, the answer is yes ☺(who doesn’t want more information about Therese of Lisieux?!)
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Editor’s note: Article originally published on April 11, 2017.
I mentioned this analogy a few weeks ago when referring to the spiritual life, but I like the tangibility of it so I will mention it again. Saint Teresa of Avila likened the soul and its journey in the spiritual life to the navigation through a large a castle whereby our soul consists of several mansions. When I talked about this image with my parish’s discipleship group, I half-joked that I not only have mansions I need to order but also lots of “cellars of my soul” I need to examine and clean out.
Save the Best Wine
On a serious note, I firmly believe there are many cellars within my soul I need to discover and maintain. A common definition of cellar means “of the lowest rank or grade”. Another usage of the word cellar is in relation to place where wine is stored. I have never actually lived in or owned a home with a cellar. However, I have tasted wine and I have experienced years where my favorite sports team resided in the cellar of the league standings.
Inside the Cellar
Going back to the image of our Christian spiritual life as exploring the recesses of our interior castle, I have pondered how I might be able to reach the depths of my soul. I think one practical way for me to start this journey is to begin working with a spiritual director. According to St. John of the Cross, a director [spiritual] should be learned, prudent, and experienced.
Try as I might, I have yet to get past a certain threshold in my spiritual life. I am hoping that by adding a spiritual director and going on a silent retreat later this year that I will be graced with the help to access my spiritual wine cellar. Here I hope to share my spiritual gifts with others and give greater thanksgiving to God. But first, I need send that simple email. I will keep you updated on my journey through future posts. I humbly ask for your prayers as I begin this journey to explore the cellars of my soul.
For Catholics, Mary is the most honored saint—she is the holy Mother of God. She is a perfect example of what love and obedience to God looks like. There exist over 15 official liturgical feasts celebrating Mary! Each focus on different facets of her life and various roles she performs on behalf of Jesus. I like to think of these Marian feasts as theological checkpoint—spiritual stops along our faith journey during the year.
Ultimately, we celebrate and honor Mary because she is the closest human to Christ. She is a holy role model for sinners. Why does the assumption of Mary matter? Let’s first define this event in Mary’s life. Then we will examine three reasons why this feast matters.
What is the Assumption?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 966,
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”
Logically flowing from the fact that Mary’s was created without original sin, it makes sense that Her body and soul are assumed into Heaven. The faithful who pass from this life will be resurrected at the end of time. Our Blessed Mary is granted the gift of experiencing the fullness of Heaven before time and space pass away.
St. Pius XII infallibly defined this doctrine in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. The pope clearly states, “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” While this teaching ultimately remains a Mystery, we at least have a basic understanding of what the Church teaches about the end of Mary’s earthly life.
Essential to Catholic Faith
Belief in the Assumption of Mary is not an option for Catholics. It is one of the hallmarks and chief doctrines of truth. Pope Pius XII explicitly declares in Munificentissimus Deus, “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith” (no 45).
To jettison the teaching of the Assumption would eventually lead to a decreased faith in our Marian doctrines: the Immaculate Conception, Maternal Mediation, seeing Mary as Mother of God.
Soul and Body Integrity
Another reason Mary’s Assumption plays an important role for us is that it prohibits a purely spiritual view of the afterlife. The body and soul do not remain separated for the faithful that attain the glory of Heavenly.
The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium Et Spes points out that created things of this world, including our bodies are inherently good. “For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured,” the council bishops’ declared (Gaudium Et Spes no 39).
Because there exists some type of temporal and physical reality to Heaven it makes sense that Mary—the holiest of all saints—participates with Her body and soul unified.
Evidence of Her Holiness
Lastly, the Assumption of Mary is evidence that she is a holy and exemplar model of virtue. Mary is the handmaiden of the Lord and most humble servant of God. According to the great French priest, St. Louis de Montfort in his work True Devotion to the Mary, “[The] Blessed Mother… is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus”. The doctrine of the Assumption is assurance for Catholics that Mary is united with God.
Catholics don’t worship Mary. Instead we look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror. She reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!
Old Sally leaned forward expectantly in her wheelchair inside the front door of the nursing center, awaiting the Sunday visitors. She was the first person my husband and I met on our initial assignment as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in 1985. The director had gathered the ambulatory Catholic residents into the library, which served as a chapel. Old Sally insisted on showing us the way and introducing us to the residents as her “new friends.”
As she made her way to her place in the center of the room, Old Sally stopped gave each person a hug or a pat on the hand. After the Communion service, I found that Old Sally had a story for everyone, many about answered prayers, healings, miracles – and some of them involved her great-grandchildren. Her contagious laughter permeated the halls and drew the curious out of their TV stupors.
When I fast-forward for thirty years, I realize that I am about the same age as Old Sally was then. I’m not confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, but I have stories—journals jammed full of accounts of what God has done in my life. The odd assortment of notebooks recount answered prayers, healings and miracles — some of them involved my new great-grandchildren.
Evangelization is about God’s Work
Old Sally taught me that evangelization is not about me or how well I can convince those lonely souls on the fringes of the church that they need God. Evangelization is about sharing what God has done in my life.
My spiritual biography began when I was a year old when I was baptized in my grandmother’s Protestant Church. I grew up going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Youth Ministry. When I was 15, I realized God was real and loved me. Me! I gave my life to Jesus at a Youth Ministry Retreat but kept my relationship with God a deep secret I couldn’t put into words. When my father died suddenly three years later, Jesus was the only one to comfort me and I knew he would never leave me.
I worked in the church office in college, fell in love with a Catholic man and struggled with the difference in our denominations before we married in the Catholic Church. We moved around frequently in the military service. After three years of sporadic instructions and trying out the Catholic lifestyle, I knew by the peace in my heart that I belonged in the Catholic Church. There I’ve found the fullness of my Faith.
During post-Vatican II fits and starts of renewal in the church, I learned from Saint John Paul II that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness—what we know best and what we have available to us. Could I do this? I participated in every renewal program I could find, and recorded accounts of spectacular encounters with God in my journals.
Experience More Powerful than Logic
Saint Peter’s call to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), called me to start blogging. I rummaged through decades of journals to find stories to share on the Internet. I discovered that I had greatly underestimated the power of my simple story and stopped focusing on all the “do nots” and “should nots” of evangelizing.
I’m not a theologian or a gifted orator. If I was, my audience could question my logic. No one can refute the experience of my personal encounter with Christ! As for you, think of all the life lessons God has taught you through your God-moments!
God promises us, through the Psalmist,
“The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy, as they proclaim: “The LORD is just; our rock, in whom there is no wrong.” (Psalm 92:13-16)
I’m part of the elder generation of faithful Christians who know the Truth and bring that Truth to the spiritual orphans of our secular culture. Vigorous and sturdy. We shall bear fruit among those whom no one else can evangelize but who can relate to us right here and now. We interact with the walking wounded at Walmart and can minister to the casualties of the culture of death.
Don’t be Afraid to Share Your Story
When you share a story that’s relevant to the problem your listeners are struggling with, they will hear you. The cancer diagnosis they just received is less frightening in light of how God brought you through chemo and radiation treatments.
Trust the Holy Spirit. Prepare to tell your story by clarifying it through journaling but don’t rely only your own power. The Holy Spirit has empowered you to evangelize through your personal testimony and will guide you beyond what you can ever imagine. He knows who and when and where to share your story, for he has prepared the way.
As for what to say, rely on the promise Jesus made to us in John 14:26 that, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
God Will Take Care of You
Jesus keeps his promises. The Holy Spirit has come! He will remind you of everything that Jesus has told you about your faith and your faith story. Then he will help you keep focused on what God does.
Know your story and know that God’s grace makes his presence real to those who receive your testimony. The encouragement they feel from your story is an answer to their prayers because you were available and ready for God to evangelize through you.
Old Sally didn’t worry about the “correct way” to evangelize or what reactions she would get. She exemplified the spirit of the New Evangelization in letting the love of Jesus overflow from within her to those around her. She trusted the Holy Spirit. Sally took St. Peter’s instructions as a direct order and was always ready to share a story to bring hope to anyone.
Because you have lived a one-of-a-kind story, you alone can tell it from your heart in your one-of-a-kind voice with your authentic wording and emphasis. Someone is waiting to hear your story. Are you ready to share it?
These past few months have been frustrating, annoying, difficult, and bat-*** crazy (no pun intended), but I need to remind myself that not everything was bad.
My kids do listen. I need to exercise more patience. The good news we get a chance to take the test again the next day.
I will be keeping this memory for the rest of my life. 👇
Jenny: “Noah, what day do you want to pick to have your First Communion on?”
Noah: “June 14th! Because it’s close to my birthday and the Eucharist is the best present I can ever receive. Not even parents can give a better present than God can.”
Source and Summit
Nothing is more precious and valuable than the Blessed Sacrament. My parents taught me this truth first through how they lived out their faith. Sunday Mass was important. I don’t recall hearing any lectures about why we need to go. We just went every Sunday (or Saturday night).
Experiences in college and my twenties confirmed that truth— that at the end of the day Jesus is everything. Love. Sacrifice. Obedience. Hope. Suffering. Sadness. Grief. Triumph. Joy. Truth. The Eucharist embodies all those qualities.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1407,
The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.
Jesus told his followers in the Bread of Life Discourse, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). This is a scandalous claim. Eat his flesh?! Come on! Certaintly, Jesus misspoke. Or the Apostles misunderstood. Many left him because of this teaching.
Truth is not always Popular
Jesus wanted to provide us access to him after his return to the Father. His institution of the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist and Holy Orders, is a gift. We can technically live without knowing God. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. But we can’t thrive without God’s graces.
Truth is scandalous. At least to those unaware of the Good News of Christ or those living in sin. Witnessing events first hand leaves an impression on us. Saint John the Apostle followed and learned from Jesus for three years and from Mary, the Mother of God for the remainder of her earthly life. He definitely had an inside scoop on Jesus’ teachings and what they meant. The evangelist tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Longing for Jesus
We all are suffering the pains of disconnect from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. The Good News is God is always with us. Continue to find joy in viewing the Mass via television or streaming. Call your parish priest to schedule a time to receive Confession. Read the Scriptures or spiritual works by the saints. St. Anthony of Padua would be an excellent choice. Not only is he the saint who helps you find lost items, but he is a Doctor of the Church. My son Noah loves Anthony because his feast day lands on his birthday. 😊 May God bless you today and always!
The timing of Cardinal Newman’s canonization is definitely providential. God is reminding us, and hopeful more Catholics will learn, of the wonderful, keen, and common sense approach to holiness of the English priest.
I am excited for his official sainthood. I hope you are as well. Please check out a sermon or writing of John Henry Newman this summer. I guarantee your fervor for the faith will ignite 🔥 🔥!
Check out more content on Cardinal Newman from my latest article for EpicPew at the link 👇