Handmade covers comfort physically, spiritually
by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Parishioners of St. Matthew Parish in southeast Topeka have found a way to literally blanket people in prayer — and are now working hard to spread the warmth.
When parishioner Sue Carson attended a funeral some years back in Great Bend, she noticed a relative of the deceased holding a small blanket, about a square yard in size. When she questioned her cousin about it, Carson was told the blanket was known as a prayer blanket.
The idea had come from a church in Texas that makes and distributes the blankets to those in need — particularly those desiring physical, emotional or spiritual healing in hospitals and nursing homes. The church also sent blankets to soldiers stationed overseas in war-torn areas such as Iraq or Afghanistan.
The more Carson learned about prayer blanket ministry, the more she was intrigued by the idea and convinced she needed to start a similar ministry at her own parish. So, she designed a flier for the parish’s weekly bulletin, which contained a phone number and an invitation to an informational meeting.
Although only about 10 attended that first meeting, Carson received many subsequent phone calls from people expressing interest, and the idea just grew from there.
The concept of a prayer blanket is simple in nature, said Carson. The blanket should be roughly a square yard in size.
“It’s a nice size,” she said. “It’s large enough, yet it doesn’t impede anyone at the hospital.”
The blanket can be quilted or crocheted, batted or non-batted. But in the process of crafting it, the parishioner making the blanket prays for the healing of the person who will eventually receive the blanket. Some people will pray the rosary; others, Hail Marys or Our Fathers.
The offering of those prayers, according to both Carson and Dale Rose, the ministry’s current coordinator, is the most important aspect of the ministry.
“Prayer is the most important part,” Rose said. “We pray for healing and, of course, we pray for the Lord’s will in everything we do. Since we don’t know who will eventually receive the blanket, we also pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in who should receive the blankets.”
On months with five Thursdays, the finished prayer blankets, usually between 60 to 100 in number, are collected and taken to a healing Mass, where the blankets are prayed over again and blessed with holy water by a priest prior to their distribution.
Afterward, another parishioner, Barb McCauley, rolls the blankets and ties a ribbon around each, attaching a card that begins with the words, “You are covered in prayer.”
The card explains that the blanket was made and prayed over by a St. Matthew parishioner and later blessed during a healing Mass.
McCauley, who is usually the one to distribute the blankets as she makes hospital visits, also gives people another tri-fold card that contains words of encouragement and a few prayers, as well as contact information for the parish.
Those involved in the ministry said they’ve witnessed some amazing events as a result of people receiving the blankets. Mary Jo Swietek, who has been involved with the ministry for several years, said she believes the prayers associated with a blanket her husband received helped him make a rapid recovery from the surgery he had a little more than a year ago.
“He was supposed to spend five days in intensive care and 10 days in the hospital,” she said. “Barb McCauley took him a blanket 20 minutes after he arrived in intensive care and laid it across the foot of the bed. Within five days, my husband was at home.
“The doctors said they never saw anything like it. I firmly believe the prayers associated with the blanket helped him to recover more quickly.”
Another parishioner who has witnessed the effects of the ministry firsthand is Mary Ann Bechtold.
Bechtold, who has been involved with making blankets since the ministry began seven or eight years ago, said she enjoys making new quilt patterns. One time, she found a particular pattern that she “just fell in love with” and really didn’t want to share the pattern or the blanket she had made using the pattern.
Nevertheless, she turned it over to the ministry. She was later surprised and gratified to learn it was her own mother who had received the blanket while in the hospital.
Some 25 to 35 people are involved in making and distributing the blankets. Over the years, an estimated 2,000 of them have been distributed to parishioners, Catholics from other parishes, Christians from other churches within the city, and even to parishioners’ families and friends living as far away as Maryland and California. One batch of prayer blankets even included a few quilt blocks blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.
“They go everywhere,” Rose said. “People are always grateful to have them. It brings you to tears.”