Advertisements ad

January 18, 2009

Prayer and concern goes into every stitch they sew

By Joan Zabelka


Nimble fingers around the archdiocese are touching lives near and far: An infant in India hugs a Raggedy Ann doll, a sharing parish loads its van with blankets to fend off Chicago’s winter, veterans in Hines VA Hospital receive lap rugs, while children in Iraq and Afghanistan smile in newly knitted scarves.

An international ministry of needlework is emerging here as women weave “prayer” into projects.

Traditionally thought of as common threadwork or crafts, needlework today has become a ministry.

St. Giles’s Prayer Shawl group in Oak Park is about a year old. Lori Zalewski is thrilled to be using her Godgiven talent to serve the church.

“I don’t sing or write. This is what I do best,” she said. A crafter for many years, Zalewski said that many individuals donate pieces to charity, but she said it’s the praying these crafters do along the way that makes the difference — that makes it a ministry.

Donna McDonough, a parishioner at St. Michael’s in Orland Park agrees. “There is a point where crafting turns into ministry,” she said.

When making a gift for a family member, the average crafter may be thinking about the recipient, but not necessarily praying for them. McDonough said needlework ministry is anonymous because one prays for a recipient without knowing who it is.

While a majority of the volunteers sew at home, groups meet regularly to stitch, exchange patterns and do the usual “show and tell,” said Diane O’Brien of St. Joseph’s Parish in Homewood. The average gathering is about 20 to 25 women. Men don’t traditionally join, but they are always welcome.

Most groups gather in prayer over their handiwork before sending it away. One member was particularly touched when she found out the group prays for those in the sewing circle as well.

Ministers of Care, parish nurses, even ushers bring them word of needy recipients. Zalewski’s prayer shawl ministry offers a knitted or crocheted shawl to hospital patients, the homebound and the grieving.

More than shawls

Prayer shawls aren’t the only items groups provide. St. Michael’s Hooks and Needles make items ranging from hats and slippers that find their way across an ocean, to flannel “cuddlies” used in Christ Hospital’s neo-natal unit.

O’Brien’s Piecemaker Quilters at St. Joseph’s, mix quilters and knitters. The result is a combination of blankets and shawls. Like most groups, St. Joe’s votes on where to send the gifts. Pro-life groups receive baby blankets, senior centers and veterans benefit from lap rugs. Their sharing parish, Precious Blood on the West Side, enjoys handmade gifts at Christmas.

Inspiration to form such ministries can happen out of the blue, but many crafters say it is always divinely inspired. Diane Oster, already active in music ministry at St. Patrick’s in Wadsworth, searched for “a different way to serve.” While attending a retreat she learned about prayer shawl ministry and brought it back to her parish.

Based on the group’s variety of talents, they make items for causes like the Linus Project and the World’s Largest Baby Shower. A Peruvian mission receives their excess yarn. Children in grades three to eight can take knitting lessons if they donate the first blanket they make.

When they slow down, pray and stitch, crafters say they find a way to connect with each other, with God and with the Mystical Body. They share in Creation.