The crucifix above the Altar at Little Flower Church depicts Christ at the moment of death, when He was imploring His Heavenly Father, and shows the last tremendous surge of human effort of a body trying to maintain life.
The crucifix was sculpted by Josip Turkalj, a student of Ivan Mestrovic. Josip Turkalj (anglicized as Joseph Turkaly) was an award-winning Croatian artist who studied in Rome and then came to Notre Dame, attracted by the work of Mestrovic. He became Mestrovic's teaching assistant in 1957, the year our church was built. He continued in that position until Mestrovic died in 1962, and then took Mestrovic's place as a professor of art for two years before moving to Cleveland and establishing a studio there. Turkaly was the sculptor of the statue of Moses which stands on the west side of the Hesburgh Library, pointing up to heaven. He has many statues on display around the country, including two in the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Turkaly died in Cleveland in 2007.
Ivan Meštrovic was born in 1883 in the village of Vrpoljie in Yugoslavia. As a child in Dalmatia, Meštrovic spent his time herding sheep. He was profoundly affected by hearing Croatian epics, songs, folktales, and parables from the Bible passed down through generations to him by his parents.Ivan Meštrovic rose out of poverty through his work as a sculptor, but used his gifts to enrich his native country's culture through his nationalistic sculpture. Meštrovic later realized that his love for the Croatian people must extend to all peoples, and ultimately contemplate God. This led to a transformation in the subject matter of his artwork from nationalistic to spiritual themes. Ivan Meštrovic became well known as a great Croatian sculptor and also a deeply devoted Catholic who expressed his insight into the beauty of the mysteries of Christianity through his art.
Meštrovic had taught himself to read at the age of twelve. Nevertheless, Meštrovic flourished at the Vienna Art Academy. He became good friends with August Rodin and his early sculptures display an Impressionistic style in common with Rodin. Rodin once said that Meštrovic was a greater artist than himself.
He accepted a position as professor at Syracuse University in 1947, moving his wife and his youngest son to America. He had a show in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that year, the first one-man show ever to take place there. Seven years later President Eisenhower made him an American citizen. In 1955 Father Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, asked Ivan Meštrovic to come to teach and work at Notre Dame. Meštrovic accepted the invitation, considering Notre Dame to be the perfect environment to continue his religious sculpture. Meštrovic taught at Notre Dame until his death in 1962.
Now Meštrovic's works dot Notre Dame's campus, bringing beauty and spiritual reflection to the landscape, chapels, and even North Dining Hall. Furthermore, Meštrovic inspired many students and his influence can be seen in other sculptors' work on campus and off campus.
What is different about this cross at Little Flower, is that Jesus is looking up as if beseeching his heavenly father rather than, as in the case of most crosses, his head is hanging down. It's a beautiful example of Meštrovic's influence.