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Cherished hand-me-down

Baptismal gown passed through four generations

Article published July 23, 2008

By Liz Harter

When Valerie Bolyard carries her niece, 8-month-old Sadie Taylor Aldin, into the sunlit kitchen of the Bolyard family home in Granger, Jessica (Bolyard) Aldin’s face lights up with love and joy.

After cuddling Sadie close, Jessica turns to a Tribune photographer and asks her if she should now dress Sadie in her baptismal dress — a 95-year-old gown that has been handed down through four generations of the Aldin family.

Sadie is the 10th family member to be baptized in the gown. She was baptized at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Father’s Day, a fitting day, as her dad, Ryan, was the last person to wear the gown before his daughter.

A family tradition

The gown, a hand-sewn, flowing, white linen sheath is embroidered with delicate flowers around the neck and the hem.

Though it was sewn in 1913, it has gone through minimal repairs, says Jessica, who was in Granger last week to visit her parents, Kathy and Kevin Bolyard, and other family members. She and Ryan, who works in the development and information technology department at Ohio State University, live in Hilliard, Ohio.

“I think we’ve tried to get little stains out, but that’s it,” she says. “There are some stains still on it, but we didn’t try to do much because it is so old.”

Even though Sadie was baptized when she was 7 months old, she was able to fit into the gown for two reasons. She is small for her age and the gown’s size is larger than average.

The gown is larger than those traditionally made in the early 1900s because one of the members of the family first baptized in it weighed 13 pounds at birth.

Jessica hopes any other children she and Ryan have will be able to wear the gown even if they, like Sadie, are older when they are baptized.

“Normally, babies were baptized right when they were born, but I don’t think it’s as important in the (Roman) Catholic Church now as it used to be to be baptized right away,” Jessica says.

“When Ryan and I have other kids, they’ll wear the gown, as long as it fits them. They’ll be baptized when they’re babies but not right away, because you’re just trying to get over having a baby then.”

Weaving family and faith

Sadie’s paternal great-grandmother, Ernestine (Tangeman) Baumgartner, was the first to be baptized in the gown in 1913.

Three of Ernestine’s cousins — J. William Lester, Jeanette Lester and Mary Moynihan — also wore the gown in the early 1900s.

Jeanette, who wore the gown in about 1918, grew up to become a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She is currently living in Bertrand Hall at Saint Mary’s Convent.

Her younger brother, William, became a priest and served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Aside from being one of the first four members of the family to wear the gown, Monsignor Lester participated in the baptism of every subsequent generation as the officiant who performed the sacrament.

Sadie’s paternal grandmother, Mary Ann (Baumgartner) Aldin, and paternal great-aunt Marcie (Baumgartner) Hunter were the second generation to be baptized in the gown.

Their children, the third generation to wear the gown, include Sadie’s paternal aunt and uncle Erica and David Aldin, as well as her father, Ryan.

The baptisms, along with the gown, are not the only sacrament connecting the monsignor to his family’s faith. Monsignor Lester, who raised Ryan’s father after bringing him to the States from Cuba, officiated not only at the wedding of Ryan’s parents, but at Ryan and Jessica’s as well.

A new thread

When Sadie was born on Nov. 24, 2007, Ryan and Jessica knew they wanted, if possible, to dress her in the family heirloom for her baptism.

The gown is a way to connect Sadie with her ancestors and her faith.

“It is very special to know that we all share a connection to the church through the gown,” Ryan says in a recent e-mail.

“The age of the gown shows the kind of impact baptism has had on our family over the years, and it is exciting to know that it will be continued for many more years to come through Sadie.”

Ryan and Jessica came to South Bend to have their daughter baptized in order to reduce the number of people who would have to travel to attend the event, since Jessica’s family lives in town.

“If we did this in Ohio, everybody would have had to come from out of town. … It was just easier to come here because most of the people live here,” Jessica says.

They chose St. Matthew because of another connection to the Aldin family: the Rev. Michael Heintz.

Heintz taught Ryan in Fort Wayne when he was in high school.

“It was easy to choose (St. Matthew) because of that connection with him,” Jessica says.

“The baptism was a special moment,” Ryan says. “It was a great feeling to know that we were going to be able to help someone so special to us learn about God and all that He has done for us.

“It’s an exciting responsibility that will bring my wife and I closer to God.”

He and Jessica hope that as Sadie grows she will become a contributing and active member of the Catholic faith. “The support of our family and the Catholic community will hopefully provide a basis that can help her become the best individual she can be,” Ryan says.

“I will be proud and supportive of her no matter what she does.”

Jessica agrees that she will support her daughter in anything Sadie chooses to pursue. She hopes Sadie will grow up to be close to her family, her friends and her faith.

“I hope she will live and love as Jesus did,” Jessica says.

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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