Diocesan News

Hammer in Hand, Parishioner Uses Carpentry Skills to Serve Church 

Christian Kauffmann, hard at work in the basement of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church, said he found a home at the church. His connection to the church helped dispel his fears about moving to New York from Kentucky in the 1980s. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

CARROLL GARDENS — On most days, Christian Kauffmann can be found at Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church in Carroll Gardens with a hammer in his hand, ready to tackle his next project. But Kauffmann doesn’t work there; he’s a parishioner who donates his time and talent to the parish.

Kauffmann, an amateur carpenter, has spent the past 20 years building chairs, doors, altars, creches, light fixtures, closets, and even a tabernacle stand for his beloved parish. 

And he is always at the ready in case Msgr. Guy Massie, the pastor of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen, needs a broken pew repaired or a platform built for a Christmas creche.

“I pretty much improvise,” Kauffmann said, describing his work habits. “I usually don’t have a specific plan. I don’t do drawings or take elaborate measurements. I just kind of say, this is sort of what I want it to look like. Let’s see what happens.”

He became interested in carpentry by watching his father, who wasn’t a carpenter but enjoyed doing it on the side. 

Although he is aware that both St. Joseph and Jesus Christ were carpenters, Kauffmann said he doesn’t feel his carpentry skills bring him closer to his faith. 

“If it’s for the benefit of my parish, great. But I think my faith was pretty much intact before. I don’t think carpentry makes me more faithful. I think of it as a product of the relationship I already had with this parish,” he explained.

It isn’t St. Joseph the carpenter he admires most. Rather, it is his role as a father that Kaufmann, the father of three, tries to emulate. “He supported his family and he gave without making a lot of noise or saying much,” he said.

Keeping in mind the importance of sustainability, he lets nothing go to waste, preferring to repurpose wood to use for future projects. For instance, he built the tabernacle stand and light fixtures in the church’s chapel using wood from an old pulpit. 

Kauffmann has worked on so many projects over the past two decades — all for no pay — that the church allowed him to build a workbench for himself in the basement as a sign of gratitude.

Kauffmann is modest about his accomplishments and looks at his carpentry as a way of giving back to the church.  

“Faith involves service,” he explained during a recent interview in the church rectory. “Whatever gift that I have with wood and tools comes from my father but it mainly comes from God. What I do here is a way to express my faith and contribute to the church without necessarily being high profile.”

Deacon John Heyer, the parish’s deacon, admitted that he sometimes walks through the church making mental notes on things needing Kauffmann’s attention.

“What he does for the parish is beyond valuable, not only because of the cost savings from not having to hire a carpenter, but because of the love that he puts into it. You can see in the projects his attention to the detail and the perfection of it. And it’s not because he’s a trained carpenter. It’s because he cares,” Heyer said.

“Chris’ work in carpentry in the parish is his response to his relationship with Christ,” he added.

Kauffmann, who was raised as an Episcopalian and became a Catholic as an adult, found his way to Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church in 1987.

He and his wife Laura, who are actors, worked at a children’s theater in Louisville, Kentucky, before moving to New York City in the 1980s. 

They bought a house in Carroll Gardens and started attending Mass at Mother Cabrini Chapel, a chapel belonging to Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen that was located a few blocks from the church. Before long, they started going to Mass at the church.

At the time, they were the parents of three small children and the couple felt like they had found a home at the church because of its warm, welcoming atmosphere. “People would come up to us and smile at our kids. The joy leads to an attachment and a loyalty to church,” Kauffmann recalled. 

While Kauffmann had completed many home improvement projects at his house, including building shelves for Laura, he had not taken his talents elsewhere. But a conversation he had in the early 2000s with Father Anthony Sansone, the pastor at the time, led him to agree to do a project at the church.

One thing led to another and before he knew it, Kauffmann had a long list of accomplishments at Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church.