Working on a prayer shawl at St. Charles Borromeo School in Milwaukee are, from left, Capri Fowler, Emily Naczek, Genny Lesniewski and Bristine Fowler. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

Sixth-grade twins Bristine and Capri Fowler, 12, proudly showed off the pieces they created that were stitched together to form a little blanket or shawl.

Their handiwork was one of 15 knit pieces of many colors and styles. Some used heavy yarn, some had fringes, one even had a little, pink, crocheted flower attached to it.

Every Thursday starting in early February through the end of March, Bristine, Capri and other students came to the church gathering space from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. to knit and crochet. Many also used school free time for their projects and worked on them at home.

Altogether, 10 students committed to what was called the prayer shawl ministry. Actually, the 15 completed pieces are more like mini-blankets or large scarves. On a spring day, the girls had spread them out on the ledge by the east windows of the gathering space, which made all the colors vibrant. It could wrap a baby, keep out the cold around a youngster’s neck or maybe even be an extra cover for a toddler.

And that’s for whom they were meant. Children. Specifically, children at Children’s Hospital.

On April 1, the “shawls” were blessed at St. Charles Borromeo. Shortly after, the students and teachers took them to Children’s Hospital.

Emily Naczek, a third-year math and religion teacher at the school who knows her way around needles and yarn, couldn’t wait to get her hands in the project. She learned to knit from her mother.

“It was a big-time commitment for the kids, but they loved it,” said Naczek.

The idea for the prayer shawl ministry was conceived at the beginning of the school year. Principal Ellen Knippel and her staff were looking for ways to implement a “corporal works of mercy” theme. The prayer shawl ministry filled the bill.

Besides Bristine and Capri, the students who worked on the prayer shawl ministry were: sixth-graders Antonio D’Acquisto, Celina Edwards, Morgan Smigielski, Hailee Hoffman, Genny Lesniewski and Haniah Ahmad; fifth-grader Makenzie Hintz; and fourth-graders Gohar Nasir, Paige Paniagua and Mary Rose Nemeth.

The ministry did more than involve students with a community organization that they could serve. Several senior members of the parish also helped make the shawls and taught the students.


St. Charles Borromeo sixth grader Celina Edwards and parishioner Theresa Lange work together on a shawl. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

“It was a great way to bridge the gap between our senior parish members and school children,” said Naczek.

Besides the help from parishioners, a bulletin notice also produced donations of yarn and needles for the project.

Naczek explained how the project joins the school with the church.

“It is not just ‘St. Charles Borromeo School’ but ‘St. Charles Borromeo Parish School,’” said Naczek.

Those who helped teach the group gave of their time and talent, but also received satisfaction.

“It was nice to relax and work on a project together,” said Wendy Fowler, the twins’ mother and an aide at the school, who helped with the project.

While the students didn’t take long to get the hang of it, it took a while before everyone was satisfied with the results. Some of the first pieces ended up looking more like trapezoids than rectangles.

Naczek and Fowler agreed it took some time to see what kind of yarn and hooks were best for the students to use, but once they decided on the right tools and material, the work went smoothly.

While the students were having fun learning to crochet and knit, so was Knippel. The school’s principal was just as excited at picking up the new skill as the students were and often brought treats for everyone.

“She was our biggest cheerleader,” said Naczek.