Prayer shawls and iPads may have more in common than most people know.

One may be a manufactured product of the modern age, while the other is a handmade religious accessory. But using an iPad and knitting a prayer shawl are activities that require skill and dexterity. 04-26-12-CHN_15Mary Selan gets help from seventh grade students Francesca Hamilton, right, and Isabelle Branger, left, in a demonstration on how to use an iPad at Divine Mercy School in South Milwaukee on Thursday, April 26. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)Both can be used to bring people together, and both are important parts of the ministry of Divine Mercy Parish in South Milwaukee.

That was clear on April 26 when the parish school was the site of a unique intergenerational gathering where 18 seventh graders hosted about a dozen members of Divine Mercy’s prayer shawl knitting group in an exchange of knowledge, spirituality and friendship.

The event was planned by pastoral assistant Sue Repa.

“I’ve been doing intergenerational events here for years,” she said. “The idea for this particular one is that the parish members become educated as to how the classroom is growing and changing with new technology. The students, in turn, learn about the social outreach we do here at the parish.”

Spirits were high and conversation flowed easily in the classroom, where students partnered with knitters to examine examples of prayer shawls and, in turn, give their guests a lesson in how to use an iPad.

Knitter Kathy Matthew was impressed by the equipment. Her partners, seventh graders Payton Decker and Kailyn Van Sycoc, showed her how to take a digital picture using the iPad.

“These kids are very tech-savvy,” she said. “I’m old-fashioned. I wonder how long until e-books replace textbooks?”

“Soon, I’m sure,” replied Decker, who explained that she nonetheless prefers textbooks over their digital counterparts. “Textbooks have examples and go more in-depth. The iPad is good for practice.”

She said her favorite application on the iPad is a math program called Fraction Kitchen.

Van Sycoc tried on a prayer shawl knit by Matthew and modeled it for the group. Matthew and Decker chatted about sewing, which they both enjoy. Matthew explained that while she knits a prayer shawl, her mind will invariably travel to the shawl’s recipient. Knitters often pray while creating their shawls.

“If I were in the places of these ladies who receive the prayer shawls, I would feel really good to get one,” Decker said while looking on. “It’s so sweet.”

Repa explained to the students that the parish’s prayer shawl ministry is an expression of Christian love.04-26-12-CHN_20Sue Repa, pastoral assistant at Divine Mercy Parish, South Milwaukee, holds up some prayer shawls made by the women at Divine Mercy. During an intergenerational gathering, the seventh graders at the school learned about prayer shawl making, while the students taught the women about iPads. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

“In a parish of 3,300, we can’t go to each person and give them a hug if they need it,” she told the kids. “So prayer shawls are used when people need healing – spiritual and physical. The parish gives them this hug saying, ‘We’re with you the whole time.’”

She advised the students that the parish office keeps the shawls on hand for anyone who has need of one. The knitting group has been active since 2006 and by October expects to have produced about 2,000 shawls using donated yarn from the parish, where the ministry, said Repa, “has just really taken off.”

The shawls are blessed at Mass and donated to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retreat programs for sexually abused women and other ministries of healing.

“This event will help the students of our school appreciate how people should be using their God-given gifts for the benefit of others. Everybody has some gifts, and these ladies have the gift of making these beautiful shawls with their own hands,” said Repa. “For the prayer shawl group, it’s really good education for the ladies to experience the iPads and technology that’s used, especially in a parochial school where we don’t always have the funds for those high-tech items.”

“You certainly have to type differently,” said Mavis Kowalski as she observed her partners using an application called Photocard to create a virtual postcard about the school.

Student Kate Possing showed Lydia Kaczmarek how to use the touchscreen and utilize educational programs like Math Ninja and Rocket Launch.

“There’s so much to pick from!” Kaczmarek remarked. “It’s wonderful how science has progressed like this.”

Possing said that the iPads have enhanced the students’ ability to do research.

“We had a unit on oceans recently and it was great because we had all these diagrams and pictures on the iPad that we couldn’t have had otherwise,” she said.

Divine Mercy Parish School has about 160 students and has used iPads since last June. The equipment is kept on a cart that travels from classroom to classroom to supplement math and science instruction.

“The students love it,” said Repa, who often substitute-teaches in the middle school. “We use it almost daily for science, math once a week or three times a month. The kids get all excited when they see the cart coming down the hall – they always want it to be coming to their classroom.”

Erin Lovis, who teaches math and literature at Divine Mercy for grades 5 through 8, said the iPad has “enhanced” her students’ learning experience.

“Kids are so hands-on these days, and with technology already in their lives, it just makes sense to incorporate it into the classroom,” she said.

Lovis said that the connection with the senior generation of the parish is important for her students.

“It helps them to be more in touch with what’s going on in the parish and the ministries in the parish,” she said. “It’s good for them to have that contact that’s not just with other kids, where they speak to older adults and explain things about their lives to them.”