MADISON, Wisconsin — Many families have Holy Week and Easter traditions, often passed down from generation to generation.
For Jason Studnicka of Muscoda, that tradition is making palm arrangements.
“Years and years” ago, the 35-year-old Studnicka said, his dad taught him how to weave palm branches into a pyramid, something passed down from the family’s Bohemian ancestors.
“Dad would start them,” he said, after getting the palm on Palm Sunday, and “us kids would finish the weave.”
He added that he was told the Bohemian tradition was passed down from parent to child over many generations. “How much truth there is to that, I have no clue,” he told the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Madison Diocese.
For the past 10 years, Studnicka has made palm arrangements and presented them to Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino on Palm Sunday. This year was no exception.
When Studnicka was in the seminary more than a decade ago, the family tradition got wider recognition.
While at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, he weaved his palm that he got from Palm Sunday Mass into the pyramid style and put it on his door. Some fellow seminarians asked him to do the same to their palms.
During a meeting with Morlino, he told Studnicka that he had heard about his weaving talents and wondered if the seminarian could make something for him. He suggested an arrangement similar to what the pope carries on Palm Sunday — using numerous branches weaved in the Bohemian tradition.
“If my bishop tells me to make him one, I guess I’ll make him one,” Studnicka thought.
Then Studnicka’s father died, so he took time off from seminary studies and started working at Meister Cheese in Muscoda. (He never went back to the seminary and is now a plant manager there).
Then it came time to make a palm arrangement for Morlino. He enlisted the help of a local florist, Katie Bailey, to help him acquire the palms, which she still does today.
The first step was to make the pyramid base his father had perfected. With his dad gone, Studnicka had a “challenge just starting them.” Soon, he figured it out and went to work fixing up the palms to weave together.
He can get about four or five palms ready in an hour.
So began the tradition of the bishop having a palm arrangement for Palm Sunday Mass. For the past five years, Studnicka also has made palm arrangements for the priests at his home parish in Muscoda.
This year, he weaved between 100 and 120 palms to make both arrangements.
He gets the majority of his palms from the T. H. Stemper Co. in Milwaukee, where he said he’s known on a first-name basis.
“They call me the day they come in (and I) rush to Milwaukee the next day and pick up my order,” he said.
With most of the palms coming from Texas and Florida, a smaller number were available this time because of last year’s hurricanes.
Along with carrying on a family tradition, Studnicka gets a lot of joy out of weaving the palms every year.
“Just seeing the bishop carrying it is heartwarming in itself,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoy seeing that.” At Morlino’s request, he makes some separate pieces to hand out to children.
In addition to sharing the tradition with the surrounding Catholic community, Studnicka also shares it with family members.
He remarked that during many get-togethers of family members on his dad’s side, sometimes with upward of 40 to 50 relatives of all ages, he’ll bring along his leftover palm branches and spend some of Easter Sunday showing others how to weave the palms.
When he is working on his creations at home, Studnicka sits in a chair with palms all around him “and buckets of water to keep them from drying out.” He cuts them up and weaves them while watching TV or sometimes praying.
Two weeks before Palm Sunday is his “busiest time of the year,” he said. “I don’t get much sleep, and I do a lot of weaving.”
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Wondrash is a reporter at the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Madison.