- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) - Retired Capuchin Friar Robert Udulutsch spent the better part of a year making his own casket out of scrap wood, corrugated cardboard, brown wrapping paper and glue.

He’s proud of how the environmentally friendly casket turned out and considers it a work of art, but he’s not eager to lie inside.

“They’d say, ‘When are you going to finish that, Bob?’ I’d say, ‘I’m in no hurry to use it,’” he told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The Post-Crescent reports that Udulutsch, 88, built the casket without any plans, other than what was in his head, in the basement of St. Fidelis Friary. He’s confident that his measurements, materials and workmanship are sound.

“I’m not a fat friar, so I suspect I’ll fit in there,” he quipped.

This is the second casket that Udulutsch has made. The first one also was meant for him but ultimately went to his brother, Irvin Udulutsch, a Capuchin friar who died and was buried in it in 2010. That casket was made of wood and cost about $350.

For the second casket, Udulutsch said he decided to use “lowly materials - things that people reject - to make something beautiful.”

He started by gluing together pieces of single-ply corrugated cardboard. That is until he walked into a Festival Foods store and saw large cardboard cartons holding watermelons.

Udulutsch asked store clerks if he could have a few cartons, as they were made of triple-ply corrugated cardboard and would save him the time and effort needed to glue together the single-ply pieces.

“They didn’t seem too curious why I wanted them,” he said.

The bed of his casket is made of the exposed ends of the glued corrugated cardboard. The bed tilts on a fulcrum made from a cardboard tube.

The bottom of the casket is a hollow-core door that he purchased for $3 at Habitat ReStore. A pillow for his head cost 35 cents at a thrift store.

The handles on the casket are wrapped with white habit cords (cinctures), and the interior is lined with burlap and brown Capuchin habit cloth.

Udulutsch said the whole casket weighs 162 pounds and cost him $35. The biggest expense was a gallon of glue that cost $16.50.

The only metal items in the casket are six eight-penny nails, 24 screws and a hinged bracket to hold the lid open.

“I would say it’s about 99 percent biodegradable, at least,” Udulutsch said.

While the casket is made from simple materials, it carries deep meaning.

Udulutsch said he carefully chose the symbols and words that adorn the casket to spark a conversation about the mystery of death.

“We live in a culture that has an enormous denial of death,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about it.”

Capuchin friars work in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, and the casket contains multiple references to the patron saint of animals and ecology.

A quote from St. Francis encircles the casket. It says, “LAUDATO SI (Praise be to you), my Lord for Sister Death, from whose embrace no mortal can escape. Happy those she finds doing your will. The second death cannot harm them.”

Udulutsch kept the first words in Italian because Pope Francis wrote an encyclical letter about the environment titled “Laudato si.” Udulutsch said he was moved by the papal letter and hopes to lessen his carbon footprint with the casket.

At the head end of the casket is a woodcut showing St. Francis on the night before his death. It says, “What a person is when appearing before God, that alone is what one is, and nothing more.”

“How would you say it better?” Udulutsch asked.

The foot of the casket displays the Franciscan coat of arms and says, “My God and my All.”

The inside lid contains a picture of an angel and three women at the empty tomb of Jesus. It says, “He has been raised; He is not here!”

“I hope when I am lying in here, they look and say, ‘Where is this guy?’ ‘Well, he’s not here. He’s been raised up.’”

Udulutsch said the symbols and passages encourage people to face their own mortality.

“It was never intended, at least by God, to be something so fearful,” he said. “And it isn’t if we’re trying to do God’s will in some way, I guess.”

Udulutsch has received requests from others to make additional caskets, but he thinks this will be his last one. He said the building process yielded a profound spiritual payoff.

“All of the way through, I had a deep sense of joy and peace and calmness,” he said. “Did it help me face my own mortality? I think so.”


Information from: Post-Crescent Media, https://www.postcrescent.com

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