Palm braiding is her gift to others

Carol Frahm, joined by Becky Totzke, teaches others to braid palms every Palm Sunday

APPLETON — Carol Frahm brought plenty of things with her when she moved from Massachusetts back to Wisconsin in 1999.

Among Frahm’s most prized possessions was her newfound knowledge of palm braiding.

Twenty years after returning to her hometown of Appleton, Frahm continues teaching the ancient art of palm braiding to fellow members of St. Mary Parish who attend Palm Sunday Mass.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Carol Frahm (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

“I was seeing it as a dying art that wasn’t being passed on,” said Frahm. “I thought, ‘We can’t let this die out.’ So I’m happy to keep this tradition going.”

Frahm moved to Massachusetts in 1984, not long after graduating from Clarke College in Iowa with a degree in journalism and working briefly at a Rhinelander newspaper.

Through her new church in Massachusetts, Frahm met the Murad family of Haverhill “and they essentially adopted me and took me in on holidays and birthdays and other special events.”

“On Palm Sundays, part of their family tradition is to make simple palm crosses,” she added. “They’re devoted to this tradition. Their extended family looks forward to receiving these palm crosses when they come for Palm Sunday or Easter dinner.”

Before Frahm returned to Wisconsin in 1999 to help care for her parents, she made sure she learned from the Murad family how to make palm crosses.

A couple of years after rejoining her home parish of St. Mary, Frahm presented the idea of showing fellow parishioners how to braid palm fronds. Two years later she was joined by Becky Totzke, and the two have been teaching others every year since then during the Palm Sunday bake sale after Mass.

“Becky is an integral person in this. She’s gifted as a natural palm braider,” said Frahm, noting that Totzke and her husband, Bob, bring a display with numerous palm braiding patterns for people to see.

Frahm’s brother, LeRoy, also has helped teach palm braiding on Palm Sunday for the past few years.

Frahm said a basic palm braid can take less than 30 seconds, whereas an intricate pattern may take quite a bit longer depending on one’s skill level.

It was common to see children learning the art of palm braiding those first few years at St. Mary, Frahm said. In recent years, she said more adults have expressed interest in the craft, particularly designs that involve rose patterns.

“We need to keep our faith alive in our lives,” Frahm said. “Little things that create traditions help — especially for young people. So when we first started, one of the first patterns was a simple palm cross that a child can look at the picture and complete it without any problem. The child is happy. And if that helps to cement their faith, that’s great.”

Frahm and Totzke stay as long as needed on Palm Sunday to help anyone interested in braiding the palm fronds they receive upon entering church.

“Our goal is to get people to make them, instead of us making them for them,” Frahm said. “We want them to know how to do it so they can pass it on, too.”

Frahm enjoys being an active parishioner at St. Mary, which is where she was baptized and had first Communion.

Her family went to Mass every Sunday, and she and her five older siblings attended St. Mary School, which went through eighth grade. From there, she attended Xavier High School in Appleton.

Frahm’s late father, Ed Frahm, handled maintenance at the church for more than 25 years. Her late mother, Dorothy, was a member of the adult choir.

“Because my father was the maintenance man, one of his jobs was to help our priest light the Easter fire,” Frahm said. “I have a memory of all of my siblings being in church for the Easter Vigil when my father had to light that fire.”

St. Mary Parish has welcomed five generations of Frahm family members — the youngest are the children of Frahm’s nephew. The family’s parish roots reach back to Frahm’s late grandparents, Herman and Mary (Wittlin) Frahm, who were married at St. Mary.

Frahm was a member of the adult choir while in high school and rejoined the choir after returning to Appleton. “God gave me the gift of a voice, and I enjoy using it very much,” she said.

After concluding her journalism career, Frahm transitioned to a career in the nonprofit sector. She retired three months ago after serving as director of parish activities for five years at St. Mary in Greenville.

Frahm also has participated in three weeklong mission trips to Kentucky as part of the Fox Valley Mission Group. Her latest journey took place last fall.


Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Carol Frahm

Parish: St. Mary, Appleton

Age: 62

Favorite saint: Augustine, (Blessed) Solanus Casey

Words to live by: “One in mind and heart intent upon God.”