Putting their faith into their fingers, the volunteers of St. Rita’s Prayer Shawl Ministry have crafted, prayed over and created handmade items for almost 100 homebound and seriously ill parishioners since 2010.
It’s a ministry with a lot of heart --- and skeins of yarn.
“It’s important for people to know that we are thinking of them and they are still a part of us and our parish,” says Mary Taillac, one of the founding members of the ministry of knitters and crocheters.
“I’m so glad I can share my talents,” agrees Marilyn Delgatto, the other founding member who adds that, “We just didn’t want people to think that they have been forgotten. They are still important to us.”
The ministry grew out of a Lenten project to create handcrafted items to be distributed at the City of Hope. The two women decided that their Sierra Madre parish needed a similar ministry that would combine prayer and crafting with community.
After talking with their pastor, Msgr. Richard Krekelberg (“He told us, ‘Great!’ and that really got us started” says Delgatto), the two ladies put out the word that they needed crafters. In the fall of 2010, the ministry held a boutique of crafted art items which raised enough money to purchase yarn and other necessities to start the ministry.
Today, the ministry has expanded to about 25 folks, funded solely by private donations. The average materials cost for an item is about $15-$20 but the handmade aspect makes these items priceless.
In Delgatto’s guest bedroom on a large bookshelf, yarn skeins are stacked, bundled together with complementary colors and await transformation. Today, Delgatto and Taillac are considering colors for a young teenager with a serious medical condition. They learned her favorite colors are blue and white and they began the process of selecting the yarn. Through the years, the ministry has created items for all ages from babies to the elderly.
Despite the name of the ministry, the crafters don’t just make prayer shawls --- they also create lap blankets which are uniquely designed for men, women or children. Prayer shawls, especially caped-style, seem a bit outdated for most recipients, the ladies discovered, but everyone can relate to a comfy hand-made blanket or a straight modern shawl.
The process is relatively simple. Once the colors and design is picked, the item gets passed around to usually six or seven crafters and it takes three to six weeks to complete depending on how fast each crafter works. Volunteers usually keep the item for about 3 days before passing it along to the next person.
“It’s important that many hands and prayers are involved,” explains Taillac.
Indeed, what sets this ministry apart is that crafters pray for the recipient while working on it so that the final piece is presented not only with care and skill, but faith and intentions.
A sample prayer for a woman: “Lord…I make each stitch with love and payer in my heart for her comfort and hope. May she feel your loving arms around her as she wears this shawl and may it represent to her your power to heal any hurt.”
Once an item is complete, a priest blesses it and a St. Rita medal is attached to it along with a specially designed card signed by each crafter who worked on the project.
Often the ministry hears from the person or family associated with the item. One recipient family wrote: "You will never know just how pleased John was to have that lovely blessed lap blanket and all your prayers. He kept it with him day and night up until his passing to God. I now keep it and I feel John close to me. I am sure it is all the prayers he received that kept him pain free during his illness. Thank you again, and God bless and keep you in his care."
“All the feedback we get is wonderful,” says Delgatto. “It just makes our day. We are happy to share and pray for people in need.”
Msgr. James O'Callaghan memoirs help rebuild St. John Vianney
“Even now, Father O is still helping our parish,” says Sandy Niccoli, parishioner at St. John Vianney Church, about the recently published autobiography of Msgr. James O’Callaghan, founding pastor, who died in 2002.
The memoirs were a long time coming, as Niccoli described the ups and downs of getting the manuscript in editorial shape and finding a publisher. “It was a miraculous thing that this finally came about,” she says.
Proceeds from the book sale are helping to fund the rebuilding of the church, which was destroyed in a fire in 2011. The Hacienda Heights parish marks its golden jubilee in 2015.
When he was still alive at age 85, Msgr. O’Callaghan was “egged on” by a parishioner to put down his life story, which he agreed to do with a tape recorder. “It was just him speaking randomly so the editing was rather difficult,” chuckles Niccoli, who credits parishioner Maureen O’Brien Krock with the task of prepping the manuscript to its final form.
The overriding theme of Msgr. O’Callaghan’s memoirs was not that the native Angeleno chose to be a priest, but rather that he was called to the ministry. “It’s the last thing he wanted to be,” says Niccoli.
The book traces Msgr. O’Callaghan’s life from his early school days in Silver Lake (“He really didn’t do well in grammar school and wasn’t much of a student,” says Niccoli), to his friendship with famous folks like Ricardo Montalban, Clark Gable and Fred Astaire and then through his days in the seminary and the challenges of parish life.
Told in first person, the book is a straightforward account of what it means to be a priest in contemporary times, making the book a good read for not only parishioners and people who knew Msgr. O’Callaghan but also for seminarians and anyone considering the priesthood, says Niccoli.
“He was the kind of man who spoke his mind,” says Niccoli. “Prayer was such a big part of his life; he was such a prayerful man and encouraged that with us.”
From the book:
---“I think it is essential for people to see us in prayer. In the church, in the rectory, in the chapel --- let priest be men of prayer who lead the people in prayer.”
---“Having been ordained in 1943 … I have been in black parishes. I have been in Hispanic parishes. I have been in mixed parishes. I have been a Newman Club chaplain at the college level and taught ethics at St. Vincent’s College of Nursing. I coached football and basketball. I have hit the streets taking census, given retreats, done everything and enjoyed every bit of it because I did it for the love of Christ.
--- “My only regret is that I don’t have thirty or forty more years to give to Christ. He has certainly blessed my life and made me both very happy and, hopefully, an effective priest.”
“When I read the book,” says Niccoli, “I hear his voice loud and clear.” Others have had the same experience.
With the publication of the book last November comes personal satisfaction for the many who helped bring it to fruition, especially Msgr. Callaghan’s brother-in-law Mike who took on the task after his wife Mary (the priest’s only sister) passed away trying to get the book edited and published.
The first run of “My God! What a Life!” was only 500; most were purchased over the holiday season at the St. John Vianney Book Store. There are plans for another run and also to put the book on Amazon in the future.
Currently, the book is for sale at the St. John Vianney Book Store. For more information, contact Niccoli at (562) 261-6341.