Candle making with Brother Craig

Mission Life

Candle making with Brother Craig

It’s 6 a.m. Glenmary Brother Craig Digmann is eating a simple breakfast, part of his simple Glenmary lifestyle. On his day off, he unwinds by working with his hands, recycling the remains of Paschal candles for a new sacred use: as sanctuary lamps. Their glow a reminder of the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

“I think of the Paschal candles, being used for sacraments, and at Mass each Sunday during the Easter Season. This will continue their use.”

He’ll be refashioning these candles over the next six hours.

The Paschal candle is a key element of the Easter liturgy, calling to mind “the light of Christ, risen in glory, scattering the darkness of our hearts and minds.” On the candle are symbols of Christ’s death and resurrection, center point of the Catholic faith.

The Paschal candle is important enough to be replaced each Easter season. But Brother Craig has no need for more. He’s been gifted enough candles to last for years. He suggests readers who wish to recycle Paschal candles ask a candle supplier for advice.

Brother Craig starts by stripping symbols from the spent candles, then splitting the wax into small pieces for melting.

“It’s prayerful, meditative, solitary when I make candles. I reflect on the mission work I’m doing.” 

He places the pieces in a double boiler on his stove, at just the right temperature to melt the wax. He has cut wicks from a spool, affixed a thin metal clip and dips them into the wax, twirling slowly. The wicks must be well coated to keep them straight and centered in the candle.

As he perfects his skill, Brother Craig hopes to use these candles in more Glenmary parishes: “We can save [our resources], and that can help us a little in our mission.”

It’s precision work, as Brother Craig sets wick bases dead-center: Wrong spot, failed burn. He’s reusing the tubes from old sanctuary candles, too.

Candle tops are poured into a crowned shape that allows the candle to begin burning evenly. Plastic pop-bottle tops become molds, removed when the wax cools; a table cover catches the drops.

It’s a satisfying final step to trim the wicks.

In the end, Jesus’ presence is announced and revered as Brother Craig places the finished sanctuary lamp in nearby St. James the Apostle Catholic Church.                

This story first appeared as a photo essay in the Spring 2019 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine. Text and photos by John Feister.