Olivia Zimmer and Fr. Chris Kemp, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord in Rhinelander, display the vestments Zimmer sewed as a donation to Fr. Kemp and the parish community. (Catholic Herald photo by Mary Grieco)

Mary Grieco
Special to the Catholic Herald

Vestments at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Rhinelander were starting to show their age, and it was time for the pastor, Fr. Chris Kemp, to explore options for new ones. They could, of course, have been ordered from a variety of sources, but instead he approached Olivia Zimmer, a dedicated parish member and talented seamstress.

When asked to consider taking on such a monumental project, Zimmer says, “I think my initial response was something like, ‘Can I pray about that?’” And pray she did while asking a lot of questions including: “Where can I find a pattern? Can just anybody buy Ecclesiastical fabric?”

The more she thought about it, she remembers getting ever more excited about the challenge. She says her decision was finally made after “someone very dear to me reminded me that my sewing is a gift from God.”

Then it was time to do some research. Her goal was to make four complete sets: white, red, green and purple. Each set would include a chasuble, stole, veil, corporal and burse.

Her search for the right fabric and trim started by Googling “Ecclesiastical fabrics.” Several samples were ordered, and various designs were considered. Zimmer got help in making decisions from Fr. Chris, as well as the parish staff and others.

Zimmer made her own pattern from an existing parish vestment, and she was ready to begin.

“Cutting and sewing the first set took the most time, because I had to figure out what I was doing as I went,” she says. Zimmer admits that it was more than a bit daunting to make that first cut into the $67.40/yard fabric. Seven yards were ordered for each set. She also made a white pall to cover the casket at funerals.

According to Zimmer, the most difficult piece was the burse, which is the small book-like pocket in which the corporal is placed. The burse is then put on the veil covering the chalice.

“It has been many years since burses were used on a regular basis, and I had never seen one up close,” Zimmer explains. “It took a few attempts to get it right, but once again, the Holy Spirit was at work.”

It is almost impossible for Zimmer to calculate how many hours she spent sewing these vestments, but she’s not calculating. All of her time was a donation to her parish.

“I said many prayers for guidance as I worked,” she says, “but my sincerest prayer is that these vestments will help our parishioners to give greater honor and glory to God for his goodness in providing for us. Please do not focus on the vestment, but rather on the sacrament and the sacrifice that is taking place in front of them.”