It’s not every day a parish has the opportunity to host a cardinal. So when the opportunity arose for All Saints Parish to host Cardinal James M. Harvey for a 150th anniversary celebration of St. John de Nepomuc Church on Sept. 7, parishioners put their heads together to plan the perfect gift for the visiting dignitary.

They wanted to give him something memorable and meaningful, something to represent his ties to the former church, now a chapel served by All Saints Parish.

The perfect gift? A handmade quilt with images of the cardinal and the parish.

Parishioner Jackie Stone came up with the idea and, as she’s prone to do, according to her sister, Loyce Howard, volunteered the services of her talented sibling.

“They were having a meeting, and she called me on her cell, and said, ‘Loyce, can you do a quilt?’ I said, ‘Jackie, why do you keep doing this to me?’” said Howard, adding that she readily agreed to her sister’s request.

It won’t be the first quilt Howard will put together on short notice. Shortly before New Orleans Bishop Shelton J. Fabre visited All Saints, Howard was asked to put together a quilt featuring African American bishops. Another of her projects, a wall hanging featuring symbols of the underground railroad hangs prominently in All Saints Church, said Fr. Carl Diederichs, All Saints pastor.

The quilt will be a throw, according to Howard, something he can use when he sits or is cold, she said, adding it will feature about 16 scanned photos of Cardinal Harvey and images of the church.

Cardinal James M. Harvey will celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. John de Nepomuc Church, 3456 N. 38th St., Milwaukee, on Saturday, Sept. 7 with a Mass at 4 p.m. Following Mass, a fundraising dinner will be held. For ticket information, call (414) 444-5610.

Howard, who will have about a month to complete the project, said her sister encouraged her to include some Afro-centric fabric in the pattern to help show the changing culture of the parish Cardinal Harvey once called home.

He grew up in the north side neighborhood around St. John Nepomuc and graduated from the elementary school, then staffed by School Sisters of Notre Dame, in 1963.

Today the church is home to St. John Chapel and, according to Fr. Diederichs, it is used for daily Mass, one weekend Mass and occasionally for funeral Masses.

The neighborhood is primarily African American, according to Fr. Diederichs, who added that a few longtime members who either still live in the area or travel from the suburbs are members.

Fr. Diederichs explained he has been pastor of All Saints for eight years, and when he arrived, he asked then-Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan if the St. John campus could remain open, “as I didn’t want to be part of closing yet one more church in the central city.”

Archbishop Dolan agreed and in the years that followed, the St. John campus has been transformed to include a place for Hurricane Katrina victims to regroup, which later became All Saints Commons, housing for women and children. The school had been sold to a charter school which lost its charter. Under terms of the agreement, the school was to be returned to All Saints for the cost of $1 if the charter school closed. It is currently a source of revenue for All Saints as another school rents the building. The rectory is also used for outreach and housing, explained Fr. Diederichs, adding that to keep all this outreach going, the parish needs funds.

Hence, the idea of a fundraiser involving Cardinal Harvey developed.

Several months ago, Fr. Diederichs contacted the cardinal by fax, but didn’t get a response until months later.

When he did reply, he told Fr. Diederichs, he’d be happy to be the “poster boy” for the fundraiser.

Cardinal Harvey made his first visit in many years a few weeks ago to plan the event and, according to Fr. Diederichs, was overwhelmed with memories.

“When you haven’t been in a place you grew up in, you look for signs of recognition and he was quite taken with the sacristy, the sanctuary,” he said, noting that the furniture is all original with the exception of the altar. “Everything in the place looked like it was when he was a boy, and he was very much taken with it. We walked around and he chatted with us about things. His stories told us about his happy years there.”

Stone hopes the parish’s gift to the cardinal will be something that preserves those memories.

“I envision a lap quilt that he can use in his favorite chair,” she said, adding, “We want to make it very personal.”

Describing themselves as cradle Catholics, Stone and Howard said All Saints Parish is dear to their hearts.

“As an African American community, we have continued what they started and they left us,” stone said of the Bohemian community that founded the parish. “We want to show that from that past, what has grown, from a wonderful cocoon, a beautiful butterfly. It’s a different culture, a different time, and we must learn to change as we move on,” she said, adding the community continues to hold strongly to the Catholic faith. Maryangela Layman Román, Catholic Herald Staff