by Moira Cullings
EUDORA — For three decades, Mary Abel has taken embroidery, bows and simple fabric and turned them into a piece of clothing rich in symbolism.
That clothing is a white garment used during the sacrament of baptism. It represents both the acceptance of the baptized into the Christian community and the “outward sign of their Christian dignity.”
At Holy Family Church in Eudora, the baptized receive a garment that has been handmade by Abel.
“It’s not really a challenge at all,” said Abel. “It’s kind of a pleasure.”
During the 1980s when Father Patrick Hogan was Holy Family’s pastor, his housekeeper made the baptismal garments.
But when he passed away, she gave up that duty.
That’s when Abel stepped in.
“There was an empty space there, and I thought, ‘Those aren’t very complicated. I can do that!’”
“I just started making them,” said Abel simply.
As a mother of 12 — nine of whom are still living — the only experience Abel brought to the table was the ability to sew.
But she was up for the task.
According to Abel, all you really need is a reliable pair of pinking shears and the ability to sew embroidery and make small bows.
If you’ve got all that, said Abel, “you’ve got it made.”
Abel uses a pattern she took from a garment that belonged to one of her grandsons.
Abel makes the garments on an as-needed basis. This past month, she made around five.
“Most of [the babies] come with little white gowns or suits, but this is something the priest lays on them and says, ‘I give you this white garment for you to keep unstained,’” said Abel.
“So this is the remembrance of that grace,” she added.
Playing a part in the baptism in the way she does is special for Abel.
“I thought it was so neat that [the parents] can take this [garment] home and tell their child, ‘This is your garment. This is a symbol of your soul. Keep it clean,’” she said.
As a widow with her children all grown, it’s not difficult for Abel to make time for this act of service.
“I’m able to do what I want to do, and this is something I want to do,” she said.
Abel also volunteers as a sacristan and, at times, a lector, for Holy Family. But creating the baptismal garments is a unique way to give back to the parish she has belonged to since 1951.
Abel’s interest in service stems from her time at the former Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, where she attended high school as a boarding student.
“That was one of the things we were taught,” she said. “It’s important to do your part in the church.
“You’re a member of the church, so wherever there’s an opportunity to help and you have the time and the inclination, you should do it.”
That lesson continues to drive Abel’s volunteer work.
“I’m just glad to be able to help,” she said.
“There are lots of things people can do to help in church,” she added, “if they just keep their eyes open.”