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Man's 'Ministry of the Walking Stick' shares insight into God's love


  • Les Johnson is seen in the Mission of San Damiano that he and his son, Daniel, have built on the property of their home in Akron, Ohio. Johnson, who became a Catholic at age 17, has crafted spiritually inspired walking sticks for people who have crossed into his life since 1967. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)
  • Les Johnson of Akron, Ohio, holds a walking stick with an eagle carved in the handle. Johnson, who became a Catholic at age 17, said the 828 walking sticks he has crafted and given to people since 1967 are inspired by God and Mary. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)
  • Les Johnson of Akron, Ohio, discusses how he came to make walking sticks through inspiration from God and Mary for 50 years. Johnson, who became a Catholic at age 17, has crafted 828 walking sticks over the years. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)
  • Les Johnson sits at his workbench at his home in Akron, Ohio Johnson, who became a Catholic at age 17, said he has received a spiritual calling from Mary to make walking sticks for people who have crossed his life. Since 1967 he has made 828 walking sticks. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)
  • Les Johnson of Akron, Ohio, holds a walking stick with inlaid medals and spiritual artifacts that he crafted. Johnson, who became a Catholic at age 17, said his inspiration for making more than 820 walking sticks since 1967 comes from God and Mary. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

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AKRON, Ohio (CNS) -- An old stick in the woods might not conjure much emotion for someone on a woodland hike, but for Les Johnson a stick is the start of a prayerful journey.

Johnson turns Mother Nature's castaways into beautiful walking sticks. Before he finds a stick and after its discovery, he is in the midst of prayer, discerning just who he should gift with a piece created through what he believes is divine inspiration.

He's at 828 walking sticks. The 78-year-old stout retired sheet metal worker who lookslike Santa Claus is not finished yet finding people who could use one of his sticks.

"I'm not supposed to sell them. The Lord told me not to sell them. You give them away," Johnson told Catholic News Service July 20.

The secular Franciscan's story is one built on the rock of faith and encompasses a 50-year journey that began when he was a Boy Scout chaplain. Along the way he met a pope -- St. John Paul II -- and traveled to Lourdes in France and Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina to learn about and from Mary, who he says has taught him about Jesus.

He has been so inspired by Mary and her message of peace for the world that he and his son, Daniel, 45, have constructed a mission on his son's 1890s-era property in Akron's North Hill neighborhood. Called the Mission of San Damiano, it is named for the church St. Francis rebuilt in 13th-century Italy.

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