Ordination Week: Sewn in Faith and Love

Patty Schlarb, Liturgical seamstress

There has been quite a bit of talk these past few weeks about Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. So we here at the Spes Unica blog as part of our Ordination Week Coverage thought we would get the inside scoop on the ordination vestments for Deacons John Britto, C.S.C., and Paul Ybarra, C.S.C. Unlike with Kate’s wedding dress, these chasubles, which are given to the ordinandi as a gift, will be worn when they celebrate Mass, God willing, for years and years to come. To get the goods on the vestments, we went straight to the source: Ms. Patty Schlarb, the Liturgical Seamstress at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. She has been making the ordination vestments for Holy Cross priests – as well as their ordaining bishops – for the past twelve years. You’d be hard pressed to meet someone who puts more love into the work she does. Here’s our exclusive interview with her, including the scoop on this year’s chasubles:

How does one become the Liturgical Seamstress at the Basilica?

The previous secretary of Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C., the Rector of the Basilica, was asked if she knew anybody who did sewing, and my name was brought up. I came in for an interview, and here I am! I had been in the interior design business for about 20 years before I started working at the Basilica, but I have been sewing for 40 years. But I know I am not that old! I had started sewing in grade school.

How long does it take to make the chasubles?

Usually each vestment takes about a week to make – and when I say a week, I mean 30 hours. The bishop’s vestment takes a little longer … about 40 hours. Much of it is hand sown, but I also have to pick the fabrics and the designs. I am always on the lookout for the fabrics I can use for ordination vestments. The fabric for this year’s ordination vestments I got in a little boutique store. There were only 12 yards of it, and now there is no more. So it is a unique fabric. I knew when I saw it back in July or August that it was what I wanted. And I knew what I was going to do.

Patty's work room in the Basilica basement

You are beloved among the Holy Cross seminarians and priests for the work you do. You always respond that this is a work you love?

Making the ordination vestment is a very special thing. It is like making a wedding dress because their ordination is their big day. It brings a lot of warmth to my heart. You can see my eyes are tearing up! For some people, it might just be another vestment; but I do not see it that way. I take it very personally. I am always thinking about the seminarian I am making it for and what it means to him.

2011 Vestments

Now each vestment has the name of the ordinandi on the inside collar. There is also a rumor that there is something unique you add to each vestment. Can you tell us what that is?

I guess you could call it being a little selfish, but making the vestments means a lot to me. So I put into each vestment something that is a part of me. Even if they would take the vestment all apart, they probably wouldn’t find it. But I feel they carry it with them wherever they go. So hopefully I am being blessed every time they wear it and … I might get off that bottom rung!

This year is a little bit unique, because I have made vestments in a style unlike I have made before. I also used a fabric that is a little bit more ornate, because I feel in working with the seminarians – and that is my favorite part of the job by far – that is what they are looking for today.

You mentioned earlier that making an ordination vestment was like making a wedding dress. So the real question: Would you rather make the wedding gown for Kate Middleton or a vestment for Pope Benedict XVI?

Oh definitely, the vestment for the Pope. Definitely. I would find it interesting.

Check out the blog on Saturday afternoon, as the Ordination Mass is taking place, to see pictures of the vestments that Patty made with such love, care, and devotion for Deacons John and Paul. It’s all a part of our exclusive coverage this week of Ordinations.

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