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 | By Jenny Cromie

A Labor of Love

Bringing the Paschal Candle to Life

For 40 years, a member of the Sacred Heart Parish in Mount Pleasant has delivered a plain white paschal candle to a home nestled in a wooded area about seven miles outside town. Then on Holy Saturday morning, someone from the parish picks up a box with a transformed candle inside.

A small group of people—usually the deacon, people decorating the church and those who are joining the Church at the Easter Vigil—open the box in the sacristy and gently pull out the ornately decorated candle enclosed in bubble wrap.

It is Gloria’s gift to the Church each year. And those who are first to view the candle, look forward to the ritual of opening it and seeing what she has chosen for a theme.

“It’s a phenomenal Easter gift that she provides for the parish,” said Deacon Jim Damitio. “There are very few people around who can create such beauty.”

Gloria Siers, who has remained anonymous until now, began decorating the paschal candles in 1984 when Father Steve Fillion first joined the parish and was placed in charge of everything related to the Easter liturgy. Father Steve thought he had ordered a decorated paschal candle, but when it arrived a few days before Easter, it was all white.

Father Steve showed up to Gloria’s house with the four-foot candle on the Wednesday of Holy Week. He knew that Gloria—who has a Ukrainian heritage— had the technique for decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs from her parents.

“Could you decorate it somehow?” Gloria recalled him asking.

The only requirements were that the candle had to include the year, the cross, and the alpha and omega symbols, Gloria says. Other than those details, Father Steve gave Gloria full creative license. 

“I had no idea what to do,” she recalled.

Then she started experimenting. A theme emerged. She made a rough sketch. Then she melted crayons and began using an electric stylus to decorate the candle. And while she thought the candle design was “simple” that first year, Father Steve and other members of the parish loved the results.

So when it came time to order another decorated paschal candle the following year, Father Steve decided to order a plain candle and have Gloria decorate it.

“That’s how it began,” Gloria said.

In the years since, Gloria’s designs have become more detailed and ornate. Each candle takes Gloria about 60 hours. Some of that time includes asking the Holy Spirit for inspiration. On a usual day, Gloria sits at a table in her study, planning, designing, drawing and meticulously drawing ornate designs on the surface of the white candle with the electric stylus for two to four hours at a time.

Sometimes she listens to meditative music. Other times, she works in silence. It is always a time of quiet communion with God. Her meticulous, detailed work is often preceded by a simple prayer: “I’m here. Use me. Use me to make this.”

And then Gloria begins her work, her silent offering.

“I guess it’s kind of a surrender to the Holy Spirit,” she says. “It’s just my preparation for Lent.”

When she finishes the candle, “it’s never like the sketch,” she says. “I used to say to my husband, ‘I guess the Holy Spirit is still using me.’ It’s not all me.”

One year, Gloria’s theme was inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato si'—an encyclical letter the pope wrote in 2015 pleading the Faithful to help the poor, protect the dignity and value of the human person and safeguard the planet. 

Surrounded by wooded acres, Gloria often looks to the natural world for inspiration. Her favorite candle was for 2021 and had a woodland theme. This year, Gloria returned to a nature theme—scenes along a nearby road—in honor of a friend who recently passed away and loved to walk the roads near her home.

The great irony of Gloria’s work is that she spends hours creating the intricate designs, only to have them set on fire. 

At the Easter Vigil, the priest blesses the pure beeswax candle, inserting five grains of incense in the shape of a cross to recall Jesus’ five wounds and the spices used to prepare his body for burial and inscribing the Greek letters alpha and omega, as Christ is the beginning and the end. The Easter fire is used to light the candle, and from that flame, the candles of the congregation are lit. As they pass on the flame from one candle to the next, they say “The light of Christ.”

“Jesus is the light of the world,” Gloria says. “And through his sacrifice, he has driven back the darkness and has given us life.”

Some years—especially if it is a busy one with weddings, funerals, Baptisms and other special occasions—the candles are returned to Gloria more burned down than others. Regardless, she welcomes them back home at year’s end, and stores them in an upstairs spare room of her home. Gloria considers the work a great honor and offering.

Deacon Jim and the parishioners are grateful that Gloria continues to use the charisms that God has given her.

“This is a great ministry,” Deacon Jim says of Gloria’s annual Easter gift to the Church. 

“God is counting on us to use those gifts he’s given us in our own unique way to build up the kingdom of God,” he added. “And Gloria certainly is using hers in a very unique and excellent way.”