A recently hand-crafted ambry joins an antique marble baptismal font in the new baptistry at St. Catherine of Siena Church.

Parish music minister Jeffrey Firlik crafted and donated the light-colored hard-wood ambry, a cabinet installed in or near a baptistry for storing holy oils used in church rituals.

He has been enjoying wood working for more than 30 years and has crafted many pieces including tables, cabinets, bookcases, lazy susans and charcuterie boards, but this is his first ambry.

According to Father Dwight Baker, pastor of St. Catherine’s, the church did not have an ambry and kept holy oils in the sacristy. But after a recent renovation of the church, a front nave where the tabernacle had been was left empty. Seeing that empty space, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne suggested it be used as a baptistry.

In addition to the baptismal font original to the church and the ambry, an Easter candle and a wall-mounted statue of the Holy Family and children adorn the space.

When Firlik, a retired pharmacist and self-described “amateur woodworker,” first received the request to construct the ambry, he did some research. “I visited several local Catholic churches, searched online and photographed several styles of ambries,” he said, noting that styles can vary from simple boxes to elaborate temple-like structures with complicated locks.

Father Baker envisioned an ambry that was half an octagon of red oak with glass panels and shelves to match the oak wainscot of the recently renovated church.

“I wanted to match the ambry to the overall look of the sanctuary,” the pastor said.

Firlik’s online search led him to the website of Lawrence Wroten, a Catholic woodworker from Maryland, who has crafted several cabinet and furniture pieces for his church. He has published descriptions and detailed plans describing his work on his website, MidnightWoodworking.com.

Firlik obtained red oak boards and plywood from Treehouse Hardwoods in South Burlington and ordered custom-sized glass panels from Burlington Glass. He followed Wroten’s plans and e-mailed him several times during the build. “He was very receptive to my questions, comments and alternative building methods,” Firlik said. “It was interesting to recall my high school geometry to cut the 67.5-degree angles needed to make half an octagon.”

He is currently using the same plans to construct an ambry for Holy Family Church in Essex Junction where he has undertaken numerous woodworking projects including building railings for the steps leading to the altar.

The St. Catherine ambry project generated “a lot of conversation about what an ambry is” on Facebook, Father Baker said, providing a teaching opportunity about this cabinet that holds a 3-piece glass chrismatory set containing the Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism.

The Oil of the Sick is used for the healing of body, mind and spirit. The Oil of Catechumens is used to anoint those preparing for baptism. The Holy Chrism is for the anointing of infants after baptism, those who are to be confirmed and bishops and priests at their ordinations. It is also used to anoint altars and churches at the time of their dedication.

The ambry “fits the space beautifully,” Father Baker said, connecting the oils to the baptismal font. “It connects the oils to the sacraments visibly.”

Firlik, an Associate of the Sisters of Mercy and board member of Mater Christi School in Burlington, said, “Part of being Catholic is being able to contribute something. Our lives are short, and I hope the things I make last longer than I will. … Combining my hobby and doing something for the church is an honor.”

The 26-inch tall, 20-inch wide ambry is “beautiful,” Father Baker said. “We’re very grateful” to Firlik for donating it to St. Catherine’s.

—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.