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Pat Snyder, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, worked on a quilt April 26 at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park. Next to Snyder was June Pokoski. Sacred Heart quilter Mary Dohogne said the group meets weekly and donates most of the quilts to raise money for various parish causes.
Pat Snyder, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, worked on a quilt April 26 at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park. Next to Snyder was June Pokoski. Sacred Heart quilter Mary Dohogne said the group meets weekly and donates most of the quilts to raise money for various parish causes.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Stitched together in faith

Quilting groups thread community, faith through common craft

Every Friday morning, women gather in the Sacred Heart Valley Park church basement armed with needles, thread and thimbles.

They sit around a rectangular quilt frame, patiently stitching in and out, in and out, the conversation flowing freely and expansively over the soft sound of thread pulling through cotton fabric.

Quilters from Sacred Heart Parish worked on a quilt April 26 at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
“We solve the Church’s problems,” Connie Bueno said with a chuckle.

The parish quilting group has been meeting weekly year-round since 2013, when it was revived after several years of dormancy. About 10 women are regulars; some grew up quilting, while others learned later in life.

While most of the parish sees just the finished product, quilting is a laborious process. First, someone (or someones) selects the fabric and pattern for the quilt top, cuts the squares and then “pieces” — sews, usually with a machine — them together. A stencil is used to pencil in the path of the quilt stitches to come. Then, the quilt top is tacked to the soft batting and fabric backing and stretched out into the wooden frame.

That’s when the “quilting” begins. Each woman takes a section and hand-sews tiny stitches along the stenciled paths, creating beautiful designs that hold the quilt’s layers together. Finally, the quilt is finished with a binding.

The quilts are important to the parish, bringing in money through raffles and going to families in need through organizations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Sometimes, a parishioner will come into possession of a quilt top or half-finished quilt after a relative dies, for example, and bring it to the quilters for finishing.

But besides the craft, the quilters also share their faith, growing into a close community through all those hours around the frame.

“We share our faith journeys,” Michele Jackson said. “It’s a safe environment where we can talk about things that happen that we believe the Holy Spirit was in control of, and that sort of thing.”

They cover each other’s eucharistic adoration hours when someone is sick. A fellow quilter brought Communion to Bueno after a recent surgery. “We’ve been there for grandchildren’s births, confirmations, weddings,” Jackson said.

Pat Snyder, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, worked on a quilt with other parishioners.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Bueno and fellow Sacred Heart quilter Pat Snyder were among about 50 women who attended a Quilters Day of Reflection hosted by the Southern Vicariate on April 24 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomsdale. Quilters, knitters, crocheters and crafters were present from all three archdiocesan vicariates — and even two from Jackson, Missouri, in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

As the Southern Vicariate staff visited parishes in the fall, they noted that nearly every parish community had a quilters group, said Marie Kenyon, the Southern Vicariate’s social outreach coordinator. Often, the women who were in the quilting group also showed up to volunteer for many other church events and ministries.

“So our idea today was just to say thank you. Thank you for all you’ve done and will continue to do,” Kenyon said. “And we thought we would do it in the context of doing something you love, which is quilting.”

Southern Vicariate pastoral ministry coordinator Jennifer Meehan led four sessions throughout the day, with time for prayer, individual reflection and group discussion.

Meehan shared that while preparing for the day of reflection, she visited with a retired sister who continues to quilt at age 94. Rather than throw away her fabric scraps, she cuts them into 1-inch squares to be painstakingly pieced together into larger, 4-inch squares for a quilt.

Most quilters can relate to that bin of fabric scraps that you’re not quite sure what to do with, Meehan said.

“St. Paul tells us that God will use all things for good, even — maybe especially — those things we might want to hide, ignore or forget. God looks at our scraps, and rather than seeing useless things meant for the rubbish pile, He sees the raw materials He needs to create something even more beautiful than we might imagine,” Meehan said.

God doesn’t ask us to have it all together — a beautifully finished self, stitched together without error — before we come to Him. He wants us to come as we are, scraps and all, and say, “Lord, this is all I have. Make something beautiful from it. Make something beautiful from my life,” she said.

Meehan also used the parts of a quilt for a guided reflection and discussion. What is your “quilt top” — the parts of you that you allow the world to see? What is your soft “batting” — the ways you love and allow yourself to be loved? What or who makes up your “binding,” holding you together? What is your “quilting” — the source of your strength?

Fran Scholl’s binding comes from her fellow quilters at St. Joseph Parish in Apple Creek. Scholl moved to Apple Creek in 1997 at age 41 after retiring from the Air Force and getting married. After Mass on her first weekend there, a parishioner introduced herself, learned that Scholl had just moved to town and invited her to the quilting group.

Although she had never quilted, Scholl showed up ready to learn. The women made her feel at home, connecting her to the rest of the community and becoming dear friends over the years. They continue to show up for the parish and each other.

“The people we know from quilting are also the same people who show up when it’s time to do a funeral lunch, to help out with the picnic, the homecoming, the meals,” Scholl said.

At St. James in Catawissa, the quilters are one of the only groups that meet regularly, quilter Diane Schaeffer said. It’s a chance to talk about the Sunday Mass homily or other church news. And there’s always lots of laughter, she added. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone to my Monday quilting and not come home feeling better.”

Mary Elaine Suden is part of the quilting group at St. James and another at nearby St. Bridget of Kildare in Pacific. After her husband, Deacon Michael Suden, died in December, she’s been especially grateful for the chance to be with friends around a quilt, twice a week.

“One of the other quilters just became a widow last year. And she was sort of like an example to me — she carried on,” Suden said.

Brenda Wirth credited quilting with leading her to attend a Catholic church. After she moved to Lawrenceton, she started learning to quilt with her next-door neighbor, who attended St. Lawrence Church. With her neighbor’s encouragement, she got involved in church events like the annual rummage sale. Soon, drawn in by the community, she started attending Mass.

“That’s how I got involved in church, and how faith has grown in my life — from quilting,” she said.

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