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Cathedral parishioner has flower power

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Open the doors of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and you will see the handiwork of Barbara Ilaqua. As chairwoman of the parish Art and Environment Committee, she coordinates the flowers. 

She has to be flexible in her planning. Sometimes certain flowers are not available. This year, Easter lilies were shipped from Canada but because of the early date, they didn’t open on time. “We tried spraying them with warm water to urge them on,” she said. They finally opened a few days after Easter.

Ilaqua is quick to note that her work could not be done without the help of the committee — Paul and Mary Svercl; Melissa Thierry, the flower designer; Michele Bueno; and Hanh Casey.

The work fell in Ilaqua’s lap, she said. In late 2003, she began assisting Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Marie Angelica with the environment at the cathedral. Ilaqua took the lead when Sister Marie became ill in 2004. 

At the time, Ilaqua was working full time for the Secret Service and was active in the choir. Her busy days and evenings meant her work for the parish came late in the evening. “It would be around 11 p.m. when I’d water,” she said. “I would sing or chant.” 

“It is (about) knowing you can do things to make the cathedral look pretty.”

Her work is appreciated. She said people love to see what the team does differently, including this year’s flowers in the shape of a cross for Easter. 

“She does a great job,” said Father Robert J. Rippy, rector. “I’m sure she sees it as a ministry because you are beautifying God’s house and those who come in to worship expect it to look nice.” 

Along with her parish responsibilities, Ilaqua helps the diocese with events such as ordinations, where she works with Father Joel D. Jaffe, vocations director. 

“Barbara Ilaqua is a joy to work with in preparing the cathedral for events,” said Father Jaffe. “Through the years, the flowers have gotten more and more beautiful at the ordinations.” 

It takes time to plan the flowers for parish events. For weddings, Ilaqua tries to find out the wedding dates two months in advance so the flower donations from others do not conflict. 

Many flowers Ilaqua uses are from bridal parties that leave flower arrangements on the altar. “I put the names in the bulletin as a thank you,” she said. 

At Christmas, the wholesaler provides a discount for early ordering in August. Easter is planned two months in advance and the florist she works with has the ordination dates on the calendar.

Ilaqua can’t get away from flower care even during visits to her hometown parish — St. William Church in Cincinnati. She takes after her mother, who at 90 only recently retired from helping water flowers at her church. “When I would go home for Christmas, I ended up doing all the watering there, too.” 

Her faith is impacted by her ministry. “I am doing it for the honor and glory of God,” she said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018