So, 525 nuns walk into a basement…

the cross in the woods

In August, I visited the second-largest cross in the Western hemisphere. I guess the trip has come full circle, because yesterday I visited the world’s largest (or second-largest; there’s some debate) crucifix. The Cross in the Woods is located in Indian River, Michigan, and it’s big — the 55-foot-tall cross is made from the trunk of a 2,000-year-old redwood, and the Christ figure is made of bronzzzzzzzzz…sorry, I dozed off there for a second. At this point, a giant cross is old hat. Let’s get to the good stuff: NUN DOLLS.


Welcome to “the largest collection of dolls dressed in traditional habits of men and women religious communities in the United States,” which is in the basement underneath the Cross in the Woods gift shop. And it’s free!

It includes 525 dolls and 20 full-size mannequins, all dressed in meticulously correct garb of various religious orders. Here’s a surprise: this doll collection began as the work of one person. A woman named Sally Rogalski began to dress up dolls in traditional Catholic habits in 1945. When she married, her husband Wally helped her construct dioramas to show off various ministries. The couple donated a smaller version of their collection to the shrine in 1964, and it has grown since then.

According to the museum’s website, “In 1988 Sally and Wally received a blessing and citation from Pope John Paul II for their work ‘in helping to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life through their doll collection’.”

Worthy of commendation: This glass case filled with dolls. Not: Contraception, gays, female priests.

A glass case filled with nun dolls. 

I’m a Protestant, and also a person who is not interested in dolls and has normal social interests, so obviously I don’t really understand this museum. But if you can look at these department-store mannequins dressed up the pope and his pals and not enjoy it just a little, I pity you.


Some of my favorite sights on this trip have been the quixotic projects of really, really focused individuals who built something incredibly huge with incredible skill, and which most people wouldn’t think worth building at all. So Sally Rogalski hereby joins the illustrious ranks of Sam Butcher (Precious Moments Chapel) and Gutzon Borglum (Mount Rushmore) and Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty). Welcome to the club.



7 responses to “So, 525 nuns walk into a basement…

  1. That central blue-clad nun doll in the first pic has a certain Ruthiness to her features, no? Maybe it’s the wide, bright eyes.

  2. And I’m going with Richard Chamberlain (in the Kildare years) as the second from left in the 4-priest sequence.
    Ruth, apparently you haven’t been to the Orthodox Presbyterian gift shop in the basement of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. The J. Gresham Machen and Paul Van Til dolls are especially handsome (though I don’t think they should have made the Machen doll SO much larger than the rest). The John Murray doll leaves something to be desired.

  3. It’s more than just oil. It’s liquid engineering.
    Liquid engineering is Castrol’s unique ability, earned over decades. It’s how Castrol produces amazing characteristics into an inert liquid oil, for the people who are passionate about their machine. It’s how Castrol makes it more than just oil.

  4. The Social Worker nun diorama really captured the essence of my job and is in no way creepy. Who knows what I could have aspired to be if my parents had stayed in the Catholic church?

  5. Human beings. Wow.

  6. i cant believe you didnt find amazment in the cross and its structure. that thing is amazing to be at the feet of. i’m atheist, but still i stood at the very feet of that structure and i could have stood there for days….. its comletely amazing…

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