When Grace Fabisch received an unfinished quilt started by a nun, she felt compelled to complete the project that the woman had painstakingly begun. The now-finished quilt will be auctioned Oct. 24 as part of Project Return’s fall banquet and award ceremony at Marquette University.

Grace Fabisch creates fabric purses in her home on Oct. 4. which she will also donate to Project Return. The bags will be filled with personal items and given to female ex-offenders. (Catholic Herald photo by Peter Fenelon)Fabisch, a wife, mother and grandmother, was driven to finish the quilt she had received from Sr. Aloyse Hessburg, a School Sister of Notre Dame, working at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee.

“After all the effort the dear old woman put into the quilt, it can’t get thrown away,” Fabisch, a member of St. Pius X, Parish, Wauwatosa said.

Fabisch’s connection with the School Sisters of Notre Dame began early in her life. Her aunt, Sr. Mary Eric Militzer, was a member of the order, teaching in Milwaukee and Chicago. Sr. Mary Eric, along with six other sisters, was one of the first non-military groups to travel to Guam for mission work in August 1949.

Fabisch ended up with the unfinished quilt after Sr. Aloyse gave her a collection of assorted fabrics, including the incomplete project.

Although Sr. Aloyse does not remember who created the quilt, Fabisch concluded that whomever made it had to have spent months toiling over the project.

“It is such a rare find for someone to do hand quilting,” said Fabisch.

The quilt, roughly a queen-sized bedspread with flowers on each square in hues of blue and green with an off-white

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Project Return’s banquet will be held Saturday, Oct. 24, in the Alumni Memorial Union at Marquette University. The program, which includes a banquet and silent auction, will feature keynote speaker U.S. Representative Danny Davis of Illinois. Tickets cost $60; for information call (414) 218-2238 or visit

background, has intricate hand stitching that would have taken hours to complete.

To finish the quilt, she had to take the squares apart and finish the project with a sewing machine, a task she estimated that took 30 to 35 hours.

Fabisch, the oldest of five children remembers being told by her father at age 12, “If you want clothes, you better know how to sew.” She grew up sewing and operated her own sewing business for several years.

The finished quilt is being donated to Project Return, a Milwaukee organization dedicated to helping ex-offenders become productive, positive members of society. It will be auctioned at the organization’s “Celebrate the Return” fundraiser on Oct. 24.

Fabisch has worked with Project Return for many years, as her friend of more than 40 years, Mary Steppe, was the organization’s former director.

Fabisch has made and donated more than 300 purses to Project Return. The purses, which are filled with feminine products, are given to female ex-offenders to use in their daily lives, such as going to job interviews.

Grace Fabisch displays the quilt, begun by a nun, that she finished and donated to Project Return to be auctioned at the organization’s Oct. 24 fundraiser. (Submitted photo courtesy Project Return)Project Return was started in 1980 by Cross Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, with help from the Benedict Center. The social concerns committee of Cross Lutheran studied the Milwaukee community and determined there were few resources for people released from minimum security prisons near the area.

Project Return was started “to address an issue in their community that is not already receiving attention,” said its executive director, Wendel Hruska.

Return stands for “returning ex-offenders to urban realities and neighborhoods.”

“The main objective of Project Return is to provide the assistance to help an individual to remain a productive and free member of our society,” he said.

Project Return offers services to ex-offenders to help them adjust back into society, become financially stable, and turn away from crime.

“I believe strongly that people who make mistakes will not continue to make mistakes if they are given the right guidance,” said Fabisch. “Project Return helps those people change.”

In addition to donations like the quilt from Fabisch, other handmade items will be available during the event’s auction.
“Over the last few years we have received donations from inmates in the prisons,” said Hruska. “These items are very diverse and include desk tables and chairs, bird baths, afghans, teddy bears, cribbage boards and house plants.”

For the past four years, Marquette University has hosted Celebrate the Return banquet and award ceremony, and has played a crucial role in strengthening the organization.

Ed de St. Aubin, a professor of psychology at Marquette University, is a member of Project Return’s board of directors.
“Within a few years, he was able to develop an internship program which places five interns a year at Project Return,” Hruska said.

Project Return’s internship program gives interns “a perspective into re-entry, both the struggles of those most impacted and the work to make a person whole again,” he added.

There is a religious aspect to the organization, according to Hruska.

“While we do not force our clients to believe or worship as we do,” he said, “we share our faith everyday with our clients.”
As Fabisch said, “When nobody is there, God is.”