Fr. John Gibson poses with children wearing child-sized vestments created by Sheila Axt. (Submitted photo)
Sheila Axt remembers the day she felt called to create children’s vestments to encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Surprisingly, it came after she and her husband, Jim, struggled through Mass with their rambunctious toddler.
“My youngest son, Paul, was only 2 years old and inspired me when, one day after Mass, we came home and he came into the house, folded his hands so reverently and bowed down at the coffee table and kissed it like it was his altar,” Sheila Axt said. “I was surprised that a 2-year-old was this impacted at Mass to imitate what he had just witnessed.”
One evening when Sheila and Jim had their priest over for dinner, he witnessed Paul playing Mass and removed his Roman collar and gave it to the boy.
“I still have it, along with one of the gold vestments I made for him when he was little,” said Axt, a member of St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc. “He is 28 years old now, in the Denver Diocese, and is single. He says he wants a married vocation at this point in his life — an honorable vocation as well.”
Axt began making children’s vestments for her son and for other children to play with. It was her prayer they would encourage vocations. She made the vestments for several years, but then stopped for a long time, as she was homeschooling and needed to devote her attention to that endeavor. Recently, she restarted her ministry when she felt God calling her back to it. She has a bit more time now as a grandmother with grown children.
Recently, Axt, under her ministry name, Wee Apostles and Disciples, donated handmade vestments to St. Jerome for their vocations prayer group. She also has nuns’ habits — a Carmelite habit like the one St. Therese of Lisieux wore. She is also working on a white Dominican habit and a gray Franciscan habit. Families can sign up to bring a traveling crucifix home to pray for vocations, as well as vestments and a Mass kit for children to play Mass.
“The St. Jerome’s vocation prayer program is very active,” said Axt. “The crucifix is going to a different home each week and I believe the sign-up is about two months out. The vestments are optional and do not travel with the crucifix if there are no children in the home.”
The feedback from the vestments is very positive from parents and children. Families can bring the vestments, crucifix and Mass kit home on a week-to-week basis.
“One mother from St. Jerome told me they have had the traveling vocations crucifix along with the vestments a few times now to pray for the week because her son really likes playing Mass with the vestments and Mass kit,” she said. “I like to think the play that children do is their way of praying for vocations, especially if they are taught to offer their day and play to the Lord.”
Axt is open to making vestments for other parishes that are interested in beginning similar programs as the one at St. Jerome. She is in the process of making children’s vestments for another parish and a school that are both starting vocations prayer programs.
“Vocations, of course, come first from families, but also parish communities,” she said. “We are a parish family and are all in need of more priests and sisters. Our faith depends on the priesthood.”
Axt pays for all the materials used to create the thoughtfully crafted vestments and considers it her contribution to God as she prays for vocations.
“I don’t expect donations, but people do what they want out of the kindness and generosity of their hearts. Material, just like everything else, has gone up in price, and the right kind of material for these vestments is harder to find these days and not always available in the store,” she said.
While Axt isn’t certain if the children’s vestments and habits have brought increased interest to vocations, yet, she said it is her hope and prayer that they do.
“I will say that there is one priest in the Madison diocese that used to play with my Wee Apostle vestments when he was little, according to his mother,” Axt said. “I can’t say for sure if it helped him choose the priesthood, but I hope it helped to some degree. There are so many factors and influences that help develop a vocation. Prayer is the most powerful to know God’s will in our lives, but seeds always need to be planted so I hope that’s what this does.
“Years ago, I sold some of these vestments locally and often had a small elderly retired priest buy several of the vestments. He gave one to his nephew, and I believe he kept one or two for himself, as he could not afford much when he needed a new vestment. He wore these. He had asked me to make a cope for him also.”
In addition to the vestments, Axt has written an educational booklet and a song that teaches the Seven Sacraments and is sung to the familiar tune, B-I-N-G-O, and helps promote vocations.
If any local parishes are interested in children’s vestments for their vocations prayer group, contact Sheila Axt at email@example.com.