16 Jun Behind Convent Walls
Designing for the New California Norbertines
THE ORDER OF CANONS REGULAR OF PRÉMONTRÉ, also known as the Premonstratensians, the Norbertines and, in Britain and Ireland, as the White Canons, were founded in Prémontré near Laon in 1120 by Saint Norbert. Abbey pictured here is La Lucerne Abbey (Manche).
SAINT NORBERT WAS A FRIEND OF THE FAMOUS SAINT BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX and was influenced by the Cistercian ideals on the manner of life and the government of his Order. Pictured here is Sainte-Marie-au-Bois Abbey (Meurthe-et-Moselle), one of dozens of Norbertine abbeys in France, now largely moribund or in the hands of the French state.
Like many Orders that abandoned their charisms after Vatican II, the Norbertines in Western Europe are today largely a thing of the past. In sharp contrast, the rebirth in the traditional Catholic Orders continues to gather steam in the United States.
Among these is a new establishment of active Norbertine Sisters in Wilmington, California. Originally founded in 1902 in Svatý Kopeček, Czech Republic, they now minister to the poor, teach religious education and work in the book store and parish office of Saints Peter and Paul Church there.
These California Norbertines’ young postulants are now wearing uniforms designed by Los Angeles-based Sequoia Sierra. Here Sequoia discusses the challenges – and the joys – of this innovative design commission.
REGINA: Sequoia, this was not a typical design commission, right? What was it like?
Sequoia: This was an incredible and profoundly moving experience to have been asked to design this particular uniform, as this is the first postulant's uniform for this branch/new establishment of active Norbertine Sisters in the United States. Having the honor of being a part of their history, at the very beginning of them establishing themselves here in the U.S. is an experience that will always be very special and dear to my heart. It was the experience of a lifetime.
REGINA: Did the sisters have a clear idea of what they wanted?
Sequoia: Somewhat, though typically it's easier to identify what one doesn't want in a design like this and then go from there, and that's basically what we did.
REGINA: What were your inspirations for creating these?
Sequoia: I drew inspiration from the traditions of the Norbertine order of having the postulants wear black, but then I did research on “vintage” postulant uniforms and habits to draw inspiration from them.
These uniforms also have simple black jackets that are worn for Mass and formal occasions that have five buttons on them, designed to remind the postulant of the five marks of the Norbertine Order:
- Solemn and Reverential Celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in Choir
- Devotion to the Holy Eucharist
- Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
- A Spirit of Penance
- Zeal for Souls
“The greatest challenge was creating a uniform that would be flattering to all body types and that would have a timeless style to it. That way in 30, 40, or even 50 years from now it would still be wearable as a postulant's uniform, and one that is in continuity with all the traditions of postulant's uniforms from the past.” – Sequoia Sierra
REGINA: Was sourcing the materials a problem?
Sequoia: Not really, sourcing the fabrics was only moderately difficult in that I wanted to make sure that multiple washes would not make the uniforms look too faded since they will undergo much wear. Unlike other more delicate liturgical items, it had to be washable, sturdy, and durable, but comfortable and sharp as well.
Norbertine Sisters Convent
943 Lagoon Avenue
Wilmington, CA 90744
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