Parishioners seek to cover city with comfort
By Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Having found a way to blanket thousands of people in prayer, both literally and spiritually, parishioners at St. Matthew Parish here are now encouraging others to do the same.
For the past eight or nine years, Dale Rose has led a group of around 25 people — mostly parishioners, but a few from other parishes — in making prayer blankets.
The blankets, about a square yard in size, are either quilted or crocheted. While crafting the blankets, parishioners pray for the healing of the person who will eventually receive the blanket. On months with five Thursdays, the finished blankets, usually between 60 and 100 in total, are taken to a Mass with prayers for healing, after which the blankets are prayed over again and blessed with holy water by a priest prior to their distribution. The blankets are then distributed by another parishioner, Barb McCauley, who rolls the blankets, ties a ribbon to each, and adds a card that begins with the words, “You are covered in prayer.”
Recipients have included those facing surgery, in intensive care units, and those diagnosed with cancer, to name a few. Recent estimates indicate that since its inception, the prayer blanket ministry has distributed somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 prayer blankets throughout the city and beyond.
Through the years, Rose said, she has taught both men and women the skills necessary to make prayer blankets. Some have had absolutely no sewing skills and others have had extremely advanced skills; some come to her and want to design a prayer quilt from scratch, while others just want to learn how to add the finishing touches.
As the ministry has grown to include people from other parishes, Rose thought it might be nice if other parishes established similar ministries. For that reason, she hosted an all-day retreat this past April with a dual purpose in mind — encouraging and supporting current members as well as teaching others the skills to participate in the current ministry or establish one at their own parish.
Nearly two dozen people attended the retreat, including Sharon Ford, a current member of St. Matthew Parish, who regularly attends Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish. Having never made a prayer blanket before, she was thrilled to make her first one at the retreat.
“I’ve never done any quilting before, although I have watched it on TV,” said Ford. “I would like to start a group [at Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish] if I could get in contact with the right people.”
The quilts are made utilizing a method known as strip quilting, in which strips of various fabrics are sewn together, cut apart and then sewn together in alternating fashion to create a pattern of alternating blocks.
Unlike Ford, Dee Gutierrez, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, said she is not looking to establish a ministry. Rather, she is interested in a joining a group and attended the retreat to learn more about prayer blankets and to enjoy some fellowship with others.
Gutierrez first learned of the prayer blankets when her daughter-in-law received one about four or five years ago after a cancer diagnosis. She was intrigued with the idea but, despite her wealth of sewing experience, didn’t act on her interest until recently.
“I think I’m going to like this,” she said, smiling as she ran the fabric through the sewing machine.
Whether the retreat attendees start a ministry in their own parishes or join the existing ministry, Betty Henderson, another parishioner and ministry member, said each person brings unique talents to the ministry. She tends to complete the finishing touches of the prayer blankets, but said she is not one to take scraps and design a quilt from scratch.
“I can’t touch the scraps. I literally get hives,” she said, drawing laughter from her fellow quilters.
Henderson also discussed the beauty of the special blessing for healing that the prayer blankets receive, as well as the importance of intercessory prayer. Several stories of healing are associated with the ministry, such as that of a three-year-old at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., whose 104- to 106-degree fever gradually decreased after being laid upon a prayer blanket.
The child is now completely healthy, a fact which ministry members attribute to the prayers and blessing associated with the blanket.