On a recent Thursday evening, the St. John’s Chapel complex of All Saints Parish, Milwaukee, was quiet except for one tiny room in the basement, which was filled with laughter and activity.

A row of mismatched desks each held a donated sewing machine, one of which has been nicknamed “Buddy.” The shelves against the walls were stacked with colorful fabric samples.  Half-finished sewing projects were laid out on long tables. A group of women chatted and gathered their supplies.

Sitting behind a desk with a stack of class syllabi, Sr. Lucy Kazigu watched the cheerful bustle with a smile on her face.  This small room is the home of her tailoring school, a new ministry at All Saints.

The idea for the tailoring school grew out of the parish’s wide array of existing ministries. Since he became pastor eight years ago, Fr. Carl Diederichs has overseen an expansion of the parish’s outreach to the poor in the community.

A large food pantry serves an area of six zip codes, and a meal program feeds up to 130 individuals per night, three nights a week. Most of them are families with children.

To take a class

For more information about the tailoring class offered at All Saints St. John Chapel complex, 3717 W. Keefe Ave., Milwaukee, call Sr. Lucy Kazigu at (414) 514-9312.

Fr. Diederichs sees the parish’s ministries as feeding local families in body and spirit.  

“If we are thinking about evangelization, a lot of folks coming to us have no church home,” he said. An invitation to a meal is often followed by an invitation to worship, and a number of those served have been baptized or have started attending Mass at All Saints.

One of the parish’s most important ministries grew out of a temporary response to Hurricane Katrina. The parish originally opened up the empty convent in the St. John’s Chapel complex for evacuees from New Orleans. The building gradually transitioned into a shelter for homeless women and children.

When Sr. Lucy became involved as a volunteer at All Saints, Fr. Diedrichs learned that she had high level tailoring skills. He began by commissioning her to craft some liturgical vestments for the parish.

After this project was completed, the two of them talked about the possibility of offering some of the women staying at the shelter the opportunity to learn tailoring skills in order to help them transition out of poverty through a new career path.

In the six months since then, the ministry has grown rapidly.

Now, Sr. Lucy has 11 students from the shelter, and has also opened the class up to community members who are interested in learning sewing basics. The school has a sliding fee structure – those who are able, pay a nominal fee, allowing those without the means to pay to continue to attend free of charge.

“When they come to the sewing class here, they experience special love and friendship,” Sr. Lucy said. “We build community.”

Sr. Lucy sees the school as a way to live out her vocation to the religious life. Her order, the Teresian Sisters, sees the education of women and children as one of its primary charisms. The tailoring school is part of Sr. Lucy’s effort to live out this charism.

Parishioners of All Saints have been supportive of the nun’s endeavor, and a small advisory board has been formed to assist her in fundraising and grant-writing efforts. The board also collaborated with her in writing a formal business plan.

The enthusiasm around the program continues to grow, as Sr. Lucy and parish members are working to make it wider known.  

Fr. Diederichs enjoys watching his parish embrace the venture.

“It’s a blessing as a pastor to empower people,” he said.

His hope is that the program will expand both as a school and as a self-sustaining workshop producing handmade liturgical vestments for local priests. He envisions students eventually having the opportunity to become employees of the workshop after completing their training.

So far, Sr. Lucy and Salvatore Ciza, another All Saints parishioner, have crafted albs for several area priests, including Bishop Emeritus Richard J. Sklba and Fr. Luke Strand, vocations director for the archdiocese.

Fr. Diederichs said the biggest immediate need the program has is students. He is anxious to get the word out to those who are unemployed or underemployed and in need of additional skills to secure a family-sustaining wage.

“I would hope that it would really become a career option for someone who has the interest,” he said.  “A way out of a dead-end job to a decent living.”
Sr. Lucy has seen the classes have a transformative effect on women staying at the shelter.  Many of the women come from extreme poverty, addiction or abuse, and the chance to learn skills helps them find a fresh start.

“Now they are creating something,” Sr. Lucy said. “It helps them move past life’s difficulties.”  Therese Goode, Special to your Catholic Herald