John Eagan was poking around his basement last winter when he came across boxes and boxes of partially melted white candles.
He quickly realized they were not ordinary candles. They had been used during Eucharistic adoration — a daily, public display of Communion — at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Freehold, where his wife Lillian is president of the Rosary Altar Society.
“I was saving them,” Lillian Eagan said. “These candles are special. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out.”
She had something else in mind.
“You’re an artist,” she told John, an experienced painter and sculptor. “You figure out what to do with them.”
He did. Eight months later, a 25-pound, 16-inch wax bust of Jesus sits on the Eagans’ kitchen table. It’s a remarkable rendition of Christ during his passion, with the crown of thorns, visible strain in his neck and a tear on his left cheek, just under the eye.
“It came out better than I thought it would,” John Eagan said. “Maybe there’s some divine intervention there.”
The tear is the most fascinating part. It appeared by accident, revealed after John and his son removed the support cast and five layers of gel that formed a rubber negative mold.
“The wax had a little anomaly in there, and it came through,” Eagan said. “I was like, ‘Should I take that away?’”
He decided that was too risky, and besides, the tear looks like it’s supposed to be there. It adds even more power to the work.
“We wanted to depict his passion,” Eagan said. “I wanted to make him a beautiful look, but I wanted to put the strain in his neck. The tear helps a lot. He’s standing up to this pain and agony. He seems determined.”
It took 40 pounds’ worth of the recycled candles to render the life-sized bust. Eagan removed all the wicks carefully before melting the candles and pouring the hot wax into the negative mold, where it congealed over several weeks.
The process was challenging because Eagan had never before worked with wax.
“There was wax everywhere in this kitchen,” he said.
Upon removing the mold, Eagan felt the crown of thorns needed emphasis. So he added a striking array of pointed wax needles.
“There was something missing; I wanted to make it more dramatic,” he said. “I thought that would give you an idea of what he had to feel during his passion.”
The Eagans have been parishioners of St. Rose of Lima for 24 years, since they moved to Freehold Township. In 2008, John published a book titled, The Enlightenment: What God Told Me After One Million Prayers, which is available at Amazon.com. He’s no stranger to spirituality, and he hopes his likeness of Jesus will move people.
The family is starting to spread the word. Son John Eagan documented the making on video. The elder John reached out to Guinness World Records to see if anything like this has been done. Lillian circulated photos around the parish, provoking gasps and dropped jaws.
While the Eagans decide on a permanent place of display, the bust remains on the family’s kitchen table for now — lifelike enough to seem like a guest.
“We really have to find a new home for Jesus,” Lillian said with a smile. “He’s joining us for dinner every night.”