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Liturgical seamstress celebrates 20 years of service at Basilica of the Sacred Heart

| Tuesday, March 26, 2019

For the last 20 years, Patti Schlarb has served as the liturgical seamstress for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart a role that has not only brought her across campus, but across the globe as well.

In her role as liturgical seamstress, Schlarb is responsible for handcrafting the vestments and other decor for the Basilica and all the chapels on campus. Not only does she make items for Notre Dame, she also covers the needs of the University of Portland and the Holy Cross Missions in Chile, Uganda, Kenya and Mexico.

But her work does not stop there.

“I also am sailing on the seven seas, because I’ve made albs for the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan [which] used to have a C.S.C. chaplain … I’m all over the world,” Schlarb said.

Liturgical seamstress Patti Schlarb has been handcrafting religious vestments for the Basilica and campus chapels for the past 20 years.

Before coming to work at Notre Dame, Schlarb ran her own tailoring business for 20 years.

“It just so happened that one of my clients that I had at my tailoring business was Fr. [Peter] Rocca’s secretary, and Brother Dennis Meyers who used to be here asked her if she knew anybody that sewed. So, she gave him my name,” Schlarb said.

After three job interviews, during which Schlarb said she “was scared to death,” she started working at the Basilica. After 20 years in the position, Schlarb estimated she has made up to 100 vestments and 5,000 albs, on top of numerous other projects.

Currently, Schlarb is right in the middle of her “busy season,” — preparing for Easter celebrations.

“It’s one of those things I just have to keep going on each project that I work on, and I do it kind of like in a piece by piece,” she said. “I get one vestment done, I get the altar cloth done and I check them off my list. So as my time goes on, it usually takes me about 12 weeks to get ready for Easter.”

After finishing her work for Easter, she then moves on to preparations for Holy Cross priestly ordinations.

“We have five that are going to be ordained this year, so I have five vestments to make for them, and they’re all custom-made for each one of them — and yes, they take them with them, and they take them all over the world, no matter where they’re at,” she said. “I find it’s kind of a privilege because I basically go along with them wherever they are. It’s a good feeling for the ministry to do that.”

Schlarb said not many people think of all the work that occurs behind the scenes in preparation for the different celebrations.

“It’s very busy, and I think that most people don’t realize that everything is made here at the Basilica,” she said. “They just think that they open up a catalog and they buy it and it just appears, but that’s not the way it is. Everything that I make here is very unique, and is designed for the Basilica … I do a lot of things that nobody knows that I do. And even when somebody needs a button sewed on, I do that, too.”

Her favorite part of working at the Basilica, she said, is working with the seminarians.

“Seeing them come in … they really don’t know what’s going on, and by the time they become priests, they have grown so much and accomplished so much and it’s almost like I’m a proud mama, because they are like my children,” Schlarb said. “Because I’ve seen them for the last 10 years of becoming a priest. It’s very gratifying for me.”

Schlarb said one of the most memorable moments from her years working as the liturgical seamstress was when she was given the opportunity to make the vestments used for the inaugural Mass of Fr. John Jenkins as president of the University.

“He allowed me to go in and help vest him, and he signed a program for me and took pictures,“ Schlarb said. “I felt very very blessed doing that.”

Schlarb’s work has even been worn by recipients of the Laetare Medal.

“Four years ago the President’s Office called me and wanted me to design a ribbon that they could put [the Laetare Medal] on so they could put it around the neck like they do the congressional medals … so I designed that, and it’s now a tradition that they use that every year for the Laetare medal,“ she said. ”And the first two that were given out was Vice President Biden and House Speaker Boehner. They both have one of my ribbons.”

Schlarb said she feels blessed to have worked at the Basilica for 20 years.

“I know my business very well. It’s a very gratifying job, I’m not the type of person that needs a pat on the back,” Schlarb said. “I know what I do, and I know the quality of work that I do, and just to be at Mass and to see my creations and how much everybody enjoys it — that’s my gratitude that I get back. … I love my job. You can tell that. I do. I love what I do, and there aren’t too many people that say that they love their job. I really do love it.”

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