Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
January 12, 2024 // Diocese

For St. Matthew’s Sacristan, Sewing Is in Her DNA

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

Mending and sewing was embroidered into her framework, and St. Matthew Cathedral Sacristan Anna Stein has spent the last 20-plus years providing clergy and religious with hand-tailored vestments and more.

“I do all the linens on the altar, the servers’ surplices, corporals, purificators, and anything they need,” Stein told Today’s Catholic.

Photos by Lisa Kochanowski
Anna Stein, Sacristan at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, poses next to one of the many vestments she has made for priests of the diocese.

Her grandmother was an avid sewer and an inspiration to Stein.

“I remember as a 5-year-old, you know, I loved the idea of seeing somebody mending or sewing. I would sit there watching like a hawk,” recalled Stein, who got her first sewing machine from her parents – a brand new Singer. “As I grew up, I started making clothes for myself, my mom, and my sister. I would make curtains around the house if my mother needed them.”

During junior high and throughout high school, she took home-economics classes. After graduation, she moved to Manhattan and worked for Dumont clothing with men’s suits. She handled all the finishing work on the Oscar de la Renta line.

“I met him of quite a few times,” Stein said of the fashion mogul. “He would come into the factory and inspect. He would look to see if stuff was done right.”

After getting married, Stein began doing alteration work for people out of her home. She also spent some time at a bridal shop working in the evenings on alterations to be home with her children when they were babies.

One of the many vestments made by Sacristan and parishioner Anna Stein of St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend is seen in this photo.

“I did a lot of wedding dresses from scratch and a lot of repairs,” Stein said. She got most of her work through word of mouth. Often, neighbors would ask her to make Communion dresses for relatives, do alterations for a friend, or knew someone needing a dress made for a special occasion.

After Stein’s family moved to South Bend and her kids got older, she found an opportunity to do what she loves while working outside the home.

“Bishop Jenky was looking for a seamstress because the parish (St. Matthew Cathedral) needed a lot of new things,” Stein said. “Things were very old, they were tattered, and he wanted to replenish all the stuff. He saw what I can do, and he hired me as a sacristan also. He also had me head up the committee for decorating the church.”

The biggest challenge she has faced is getting the fabric. All pieces require liturgical fabric, something that can’t be purchased at the local fabric store. Several years ago, she and her husband would travel to Chicago or Evansville to purchase fabric. Now, the digital world has made the search much easier, and she can order it online and get the fabric delivered within 24 hours.

Stein is a bargain shopper, as she looks for the best deals she can find on materials and accessories. She estimates the average cost for the material for a vestment at $100 and more than 10 hours of work in one garment.

All pieces are memorable, Stein said, especially the work she has done for Bishop Jenky and Bishop Rhoades. Her most memorable piece is when she made her daughter’s wedding gown. She enjoyed the chance and honor to create a beautiful gown for her daughter on her special day.

Her next memorable moment will come when she has the honor of making vestments for her grandson, diocesan seminarian Andrew Barnes, who is studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland.

“He already asked me to make him some albs, which I’m going to be working on soon, and I’m making him some deacon stoles,” shared Stein, who noted her grandson is scheduled to be ordained a deacon this spring and ordained a priest in 2025. “What I am really looking forward to doing is making his vestments.”

For the past 25 years, she has handled the religious garb for churches around the diocese and has decided to semi-retire and do only seamstress work for St. Matthew’s Cathedral along with her work as a sacristan.

“I enjoy it,” she said. “I still love it, and I’ll never stop because that’s my thing. I’m going to stay here as long as God wants me to stay.”

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