Natchez couple make and decorate Easter candle

Published 1:40 pm Saturday, April 7, 2007

For the past three years, John and Doris Kerwin, members of St. Mary Basilica, have been asked to make and dedicate the Paschal (Easter) candle for their parish.

John, with the help of members of the local council of the Knights of Columbus, had the responsibility of preparing the wax formula and pouring it into the mold, and making sure the wick was the correct material and thickness.

Doris, a career artist, took over at that stage. She already had her concept of the design and decorations for the candle. She had not done artistic work on candles until three years ago when her pastor asked her to do this. “Although I have been doing this now for three years, I never do it the same as the previous year,” she said. “This year, I have placed the design 22 inches from the top, so that as the candle burns, the design remains complete.

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“I have given the candle a marble-color and in the center I painted a cross in sky-blue color to reflect the traditional color associated with Mary. This is bordered in gold, and the numerals for 2007 are in red. The Alpha and Omega symbols are also in red. Below this central decoration are images of the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and of Mary, under whose patronage the basilica is dedicated. The blue lines represent the Mississippi River and the sacrament of baptism. Above the central decoration on the candle is a representation of the crown of thorns.”

The Natchez Easter candle is five feet long and has a diameter of four inches.

“At the beginning we experimented with amount of bees wax, the thickness and material of the wick, and the chemicals that determine the texture of the candle,” John said. “I think we have it right, and when we pass on the responsibility for making the Easter candle in the future, we will pass on the recipe for doing this.”

The beginnings of the tradition of making the parish’s Easter candle at St. Mary Basilica can be traced to 1987 when the Rev. David O’Connor asked Henry Foggo – then chairman of the Liturgy Commission – to experiment with him in making a candle proportioned to the size and height of the sanctuary area.

“We made mistakes at the beginning,” O’Connor said. “But within two years we had stumbled on a good formula.”

Henry Foggo, with the help of members of the Knights of Columbus, continued the practice until his death in the mid-90s, and the tradition was continued by his son, Henry III, until he moved from Natchez and the Kerwins took responsibility three years ago.