For more than 20 years, Elizabeth White ran monthly prayer shawl meetings, watching her group grow from a few women to almost 60 members.
The meetings started in her small condo but eventually moved to the parish when the group got too large.
“My husband and I began attending a Bible class after the 9 a.m. daily Mass and one day, we learned of a member who lost her toddler grandson due to leukemia,” said White, 89, a member of Queen of Apostles in Pewaukee. “I never had the experience of knowing someone who lost a grandson under those circumstances and didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I thought of making a prayer shawl.”
White, who knew how to knit, had never made a prayer shawl before, so she went to the library and found a book with instructions. She prayed for the woman while making it, wrapped it up and gave it to her. It seemed to give the woman comfort.
“Not long after, a man who sat next to me in Bible class passed away from a heart attack, so I made his wife a prayer shawl,” White said. “It seemed like a good ministry, so the music director put something in the bulletin to start a group, and two women started right away.”
Tenderly weaving the hues together, the members pray for the recipients of their crocheted or knitted masterpieces. The women combine compassion with their love of knitting and crocheting into a prayerful ministry to reach out to those in need of comfort and solace, health and healing. Many blessings are prayed into every shawl.
The shawl maker begins with prayers and blessings for each recipient, and upon completion, they offer a final blessing and include a prayer for the recipient before sending the shawl on its way.
Recently, White has developed some health issues and moved to Oxford (in Marquette County) to live with one of her daughters and her family. She has turned the group over to Gail Fream, who ran the Prayer Shawl Ministry for the first time in May, despite being a bit nervous.
White attended her final meeting in April. The ladies surprised her with a going-away party.
“My son brought me there and everyone stood up, clapped and they had a cake for me,” she said. “It was a beautiful meeting, and a lot of people were there hugging me. I told Gail not to take me off the roster, as I am still knitting and plan to have my kids drop off my work at church.”
The meetings are always on the first Monday of the month from 1:30 until approximately 3 p.m.
“Liz always said she would leave at 90 and asked me several years ago if I would take her place when she left,” Fream said. “I wasn’t sure if I could do this but said ‘yes,’ as we had another woman who said she would co-chair with me. However, she passed away, and we never trained anyone else.”
Though the group began making prayer shawls, they have expanded into creating many more items, such as healing blankets, military shawls, prayer pockets with St. Christopher medals for those receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, baptism blankets, embroidered remembrances for couples getting married, renal sleeves for dialysis and eyeglass cases, marble mazes for children and capes for statues in the Church. There are several members who don’t knit or crochet but sew and help create some of the other items including baby layettes.
The layettes include baby wipes, a crib blanket, a flannel receiving blanket, knit sweater and hat, bath towel and two washcloths, handmade onesie, zippered pajamas with feet, sleep sacque, bib and booties, all in a handmade layette bag. The layettes go to Hope Center in Menomonee Falls and Life’s Connection in Waukesha.
“During COVID, we filled our cars with materials and drove to the parking lot at church. The ladies filled their cars up, gave us what they made and came back the following week,” said White. “We also made 6,000 masks to distribute. We accomplished a lot. We even made a chasuble for Fr. Chuck (Hanel), our pastor.”
The group prays a Rosary at each meeting, and enjoys refreshments and social time. They also receive yarn and other supplies at the meeting. There are about 60 members and 30-35 generally attend the meetings.
“We have some members who come and are not Catholic, but we still pray a rosary and give them a rosary booklet,” White explained. “Sometimes they pray it or knit while we pray.”
Currently, the Prayer Shawl Ministry is working on hats for the St. Nicholas children’s hat distribution.
“Last year, we give away 1,700 knitted and crocheted hats to several charities at Christmas,” said Fream.
To continue their ministry, the group relies on donations of yarn, fabric, notions and money to purchase supplies. Currently, they receive donations from a donor in Arizona whose mother-in-law is a member of the group, but they can always use more.
“We take donations from anybody and everybody,” said Fream. “I volunteer at a hospice and there is a school around the corner. One teacher approached a volunteer coordinator about doing some enrichment with the kids. They wanted to know how to help, so we told them we needed yarn for our ministry. They did a yarn drive and brought us 60 skeins of yarn.”
At Queen of Apostles, a donation bin is available in the narthex for yarn and sewing items. The group can also use money to purchase supplies. If you can help, send checks to Queen of Apostles, c/o Prayer Shawl Ministry, N35W23360 Capitol Drive, Pewaukee, WI 53072.
The group is open to new members, said Fream.
“If anyone is looking for a great group of women they can come and meet, this is the group. I never thought I’d join a group of such friendly women. If someone wants to join and doesn’t know how to knit or crochet, we can help teach you,” she said. “We also need sewers, and it is amazing the work they can do. We do quite a lot of things.”