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Sacred Stitchery: Alumna Sews Priestly Vestments for New England Chapel

Sacred Stitchery: Alumna Sews Priestly Vestments for New England Chapel

Posted: December 18, 2020

“When Father walks among the angels and offers back to God on the altar all our hearts and sacrifices along with his own,” says Hélène (Augros ’92) Froula, “it’s best that he wears something that represents not only the finest of what is available in earthly materials, but also the best kind of offering in terms of human effort.”

For Mrs. Froula, these words reflect not only a pious insight, but also a personal devotion. An alumna of the College, the wife of New England tutor Dr. Josef Froula (’92), and the mother of 10 children, she has personally sewn many of the ornate and beautiful vestments that Chaplain Rev. Greg Markey wears when offering Mass in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel.

Hélène (Augros ’92) Froula Hélène (Augros ’92) FroulaThis is, she remarks, her small way of aiding the priest in his holy purpose: “Someone’s individual handwork,” she observes, “their precious time and careful attention, which may not be factory-perfect, but perfectly heartfelt and freely given, should be there in support, if possible.”

Of course, it can also be a refreshing change of pace for a busy mother to steal away to her sewing workshop every once in a while. “It’s a very comforting thing,” Mrs. Froula muses, “to know that among the mess and the meatloaf, the undone homework, the upside-down kitchen, and the mountain of laundry, there is a little piece of heaven sitting on the ironing board, quietly waiting for my careful attention whenever I can give it.”

Humble Beginnings

Mrs. Froula vividly remembers her first experience with needle and thread: “My grandmother came for a visit one summer and gave me my first sewing kit. It was an old cigar box of my grandfather’s, lovingly painted and filled with thread, tools, and buttons.” Like any worthy endeavor, sewing wasn’t easy at first. “My grandmother was determined to teach me to embroider,” she recalls. “She started me on a little project which turned out to be a mighty struggle for us both.”

Eventually, the two managed to complete a flowery coverlet. “She showed me how to make many different stitches,” says Mrs. Froula. “But the two most important lessons she taught were that slow work gives the best results, and it’s always OK to take out your stitches and just start over. I am still benefiting from those lessons!”

Some of Mrs. Froula’s vestments Some of Mrs. Froula’s vestments

Small projects around the home were one thing, but Mrs. Froula never imagined that her needlecraft would amount to more than a casual pastime. That changed, however, years ago, when a new associate pastor — “very young, full of energy and optimism” — arrived at what was then the Froulas’ parish. One day, the enthusiastic cleric asked whether she might be willing to sew him a set of vestments. Her first reaction was one of unworthiness: “How could I possibly attempt to make something so fine and noble that he could put it onto his back and march right on into the Holy of Holies with it? Ask me to sew a pillowcase, a shower curtain, a Batman costume. But a real priestly chasuble? No way.” 

Resolved nevertheless to try her hardest to fulfill the priest’s request, the determined seamstress hunted through the parish’s sacristy, eventually coming upon an old Gothic vestment which she decided to use as a template for her project. “I made a deep violet Lenten set, and I enjoyed working on it so much that I started making an Easter one as soon as that was done,” Mrs. Froula notes. “Since then I have always had some kind of vestment project for someone going on.” 

Yankee Ingenuity

Since acquiring its New England campus — the century-old former site of a Protestant preparatory school — the College has labored to make Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel a fitting home for Catholic worship. By sewing some half-dozen vestments, Mrs. Froula has played an important role in that effort. “Having beautiful vestments can serve in a little way, but in an important way, to remind people that God is beautiful,” says student Thomas Aldridge (’23). “There is this eternal beauty which we can always draw close to in the Mass.”

“It is essential that the vestments are beautiful and dignified,” adds Fr. Markey. “As the Book of Hebrews says, the priest is appointed by God, ‘to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins’” (Hebrews 5:1). The beauty of the vestments and the Chapel communicate the fact that the Mass is the most important activity that goes on every day on campus.”

Now that she is experienced in the art of sewing vestments, Mrs. Froula heartily recommends it to others, even if they think themselves poorly equipped or insufficiently skilled for such a sacred task. “Sewing vestments is not rocket science,” she assures. “It is actually a fairly simple process and mostly a matter of the design and the gathering of worthy materials. Parishioners who sew can add significantly to the beauty and uniqueness of their sacristy’s collection and save the parish a lot of expense at the same time.”            

There is only one downside to this line of work: “Once you have put your whole head, heart, and hands into completing a vestment set, you are probably ruined as a domestic seamstress,” Mrs. Froula laughs. “You will likely never want to sew a boring pillowcase again.”

Suzie Jackson (’15)

“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”

– Suzie Jackson (’15)

Manassas, Va.

“Thomas Aquinas College is a paragon of what Catholic higher education ought to be.”

– William Cardinal Baum

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Catholic Education

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