Fr. Bill Farris (first row, second from right) with fellow novices
In years past, most of the larger friaries had a tailor shop and at least one friar trained to turn a section of brown cloth into a custom-fitted habit.
Before these skills completely vanished in recent years, Sr. Rita Cheong, a skilled seamstress at the Poor Clare Monastery in Cincinnati, quickly learned them. Now she has passed on those skills to a new team of tailors at the Sarah Center, next door to our headquarters at St. Francis Seraph Friary in Over-the-Rhine.
As a younger friar studying theology, I remember watching Br. Felix Blake measuring and cutting cloth in his shop at St. Leonard College. He was a very accomplished tailor who could narrate a story in great detail while at the same time executing a particularly complicated phase of making a habit. For someone like me, whose only sewing skill is replacing a missing button, his expertise was always fascinating to watch. To this day I haven’t figured out how anyone could have created something as intricate as the cowl and hood.
As novices we have several months in an enclosed environment to get acquainted with wearing the habit. I remember my first efforts with the basics: putting it on, keeping it clean, getting in a car, learning how to go up and down the stairs in an ankle-length garment.
When novitiate ended with first profession, I experienced the habit as a vivid and visible sign of belonging to the Franciscan brotherhood. This was not a momentary and passing experience for me, but one that is always renewed when we gather to celebrate, or when we engage in ministry, or give witness to the life we have professed. True, it is only one of the external trappings of religious life. But in wearing the habit I’ve always felt the call to be true to its meaning, to live as brothers, and to seek an inward conversion that we outwardly signal by wearing the habit.
Fr. Bill Farris, OFM, is the Provincial Vicar of the Province of St. John the Baptist.
Read Making a habit about the new team of tailors at the Sarah Center.