Priest uncovers the face of Jesus one stitch at a time

First slide

“Burly motorcyclist? Yes. But I also stitch.”

Father Robert L. Ruskamp, parochial vicar of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, wants people to know about his main hobby — motorcycling — before he admits to doing counted cross-stitch.

He had the audience of nearly 50 parishioners in stitches April 18 as he shared the stories behind his 11 cross-stitch icons on display in Msgr. Hannan Hall. They will be displayed April 23.

A friend introduced him to cross-stitch more than 10 years ago when he was looking for a winter hobby. Father Ruskamp didn’t want to stitch teddy bears, so he found patterns for icons on the websites Cross Stitch Collectibles (xs-collectibles.com) and Solaria Gallery (solaria-gallery.com).

He compared gazing at an icon to looking at stained glass windows. He works on each piece a couple of hours at a time. Some icons are 200 by 300 stitches and the needle goes through the material four times for every stitch. Some have at least 50 different colors of thread. Every time he finishes one he decides not to do it again, but then finds a new pattern he likes and changes his mind.

lr ruskampicons

Father Ruskamp said cross-stitch can be meditative. 

“As you’re stitching, you’re seeing the face of Mary or the Lord emerge out of the little squares,” he said. “All of a sudden it’s like you’re looking at the face of Jesus. You can’t help but think here’s the divine image.”

Father Ruskamp has never sold his needlework, but some have been auctioned off for groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor or for parish events. He has given some to his family as wedding or retirement gifts.

Stitched by Fr. Robert L. Ruskamp, an icon, Christ, Pantocrator, hangs on the wall in Msgr. Hannan Hall April 18 at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton.


“If you get canonized, I’ll make an icon of you,” Father Ruskamp joked with the parishioners. “Hand me a nice picture of you now so I’ll have it.”

The Pietà, the largest icon in the display, took more than a year to complete. Others take six months or so depending on his pace. His current project is an icon of the Holy Family that he hopes to complete by the end of the year.

His hobby is an inspiration for Sherry Murphy, a parishioner of St. Andrew.

“I’m completely blown away by his ability to fill an entire piece of fabric,” she said. “They look like paintings.”

Father Ruskamp said it can be difficult for us to pray without images.

“The great benefit of images is that we can focus on and contemplate something that’s beyond our world and yet was of this world,” he said. “There’s only a small space between you and the image.” 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@eelliottACH