Brother Sebastian Goldade’s hands are steady as he lines up a Lenten liturgical vestment on one of his workshop’s six sewing machines at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska.
At age 74, the Missionary Benedictine doesn’t miss a stitch, but he can’t move as quickly as 50 years ago, when he began his vestments ministry at the now-closed Blue Cloud Abbey in northeast South Dakota. Age and circumstance have reduced his output from hundreds of handmade stoles, albs, chasubles, dalmatics and copes each year to several dozens of such items annually.
But service to God, the church and his community continue to drive his work, he said.
“It’s not me I’m representing,” Brother Goldade told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha. “It’s Blue Cloud Abbey, and now it’s Christ the King Priory.”
And his customers — clergy from Catholic and Protestant denominations — keep coming back. Many are from the Midwest, attracted to the Native American and South American patterns he uses in decorations and trim work. Others hail from across the United States and Canada, and he has received orders from England, Germany and Tanzania.
Customers have included Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, an Omaha native now archbishop of Chicago, who ordered a miter and alb when he was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, and Benedictine Father Michael Liebl, abbot of Mount Michael Abbey near Elkhorn, who ordered a miter and stole.
Brother Goldade said he tries to keep the costs down. Depending on decorations, a cotton-polyester blend chasuble — the sleeveless outer vestment worn by priests and bishops — from Brother Goldade costs $600 to $700.
“I know many parishes don’t have a whole lot of cash,” he said, explaining why he doesn’t use silk or other more expensive materials.
Brother Goldade served 54 years at Blue Cloud and when it closed in 2012 moved to the Benedictine priory, mission house and retreat center in Schuyler, along with Father Thomas Hillenbrand.
Brother Goldade said he helped build Blue Cloud Abbey in the 1950s, pouring concrete, putting up walls and tarring roofs. The move to Christ the King Priory was difficult because he thought Blue Cloud would be his permanent home, he said.
“It’s almost like Abraham being called out by God: ‘Go to another country,'” Brother Goldade said. “But things work out. You just have to be patient.”
The move has worked well for the Schuyler community, as well, said Father Mauritius Wilde, prior.
“It’s wonderful,” Father Wilde said. “Brother Sebastian is an artist. And Father Hillenbrand was an abbot (leader of the community). They are enriching us” with their experiences and gifts, he said.
The son of a railroad worker in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Brother Goldade was accustomed to hard labor but had an interest in the arts. He studied at a seminary for one year, decided it wasn’t for him and joined the Benedictine order in formation as a brother when he was 16. He received his high school diploma while studying at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and took college courses in painting, sculpture and ceramics in Minnesota and New Mexico.
The late Benedictine Brother Thomas Roznowski introduced him to tailoring, and even as Brother Goldade explored weaving, jewelry making and other interests, he gradually learned how to make liturgical vestments, altar and lectern cloths, church banners and other items.
Brother Roznowski was a wonderful mentor in tailoring, Brother Goldade said, at one point bolstering his confidence by asking: “What do you have to lose?”
Another mentor was Benedictine Brother Benet Tvedten, who moved to the order’s Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota, when Blue Cloud closed, but over the years had encouraged Brother Goldade’s fascination with the fine arts.
“I think I’ve always been drawn to the arts,” Brother Goldade said. “But whether I would have had the opportunity (outside of the monastery) that I have a now, I don’t know.”
Brother Goldade said he isn’t sure what turns his life might have taken had he not joined the Benedictines.
The congregation’s monasteries have given him a fulfilling life and many opportunities, he said, including traveling to Guatemala in the late 1960s as he blended North and South American traditions in patterns and materials, going to Rome in 1985 for a Benedictine renewal program and at one point seeing the Gulf of Mexico.
“God uses ordinary things,” Brother Goldade said of his own contributions to the monastic life and community of 10 priests and brothers in Schuyler.
And he loves and is grateful for what he is able to do, Brother Goldade said.
“It’s a craft. It’s artistic. It’s a talent you can be proud of.”