Mater Dei reaps what quilters sew at annual bazaar

Pat Christie, now 92, has been with the quilting group since it was started 22 years ago. LEAVEN PHOTO BY CAROLYN KABERLINE

by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — When the Holy Name Altar Guild here raised $866 with its first quilt raffle at the parish’s fall bazaar, they knew they had struck gold.

But little did they know that they would still be making quilts for the bazaar of Holy Name Parish — now Mater Dei — 22 years later.

A seamless beginning

“When we started the first quilt, we had no idea how much we would make on it,” said Mary Lou Burke, a founding member of the quilting group.

On discovering that the quilts were a sure-fire way to raise money for the parish, however, the group decided to make its quilting a mainstay.

Burke said that only seven of those who worked on the very first quilt are still with the group, but some 30 others have been part of the group’s community over the years.

“Marie Cain, who has passed away, came for many years just to visit,” Burke said. “We referred to her as our spiritual leader, because she would read a prayer to us and usually had a religious article to read to us, then we would discuss the meaning.”

In the first years, the women would get together to stitch the whole quilt from start to finish.

But in 2011, the group started to receive completed quilt blocks as donations. They would sew them together and add the borders between February and May.

“Then, as soon as we could get into the classroom (the pre-K room at Mater Dei) — usually at the end of May,” said Burke, “[we] called the ladies to let them know [we] were ready to start quilting.”

Contagious quilting

Ally Figgs, a teacher at Mater Dei, comes to the school to tutor every summer.

“I used to see [the quilters] working and would pop in and tease them about it,” she said.

“This year, I only worked for an hour a week, so I said I would work if they would teach me,” she continued. “When they found I was serious, they told me to pull up a chair.”

Thus, Figgs joined the group’s ranks as one of its newest members.

The group quilts several mornings a week, with an occasional evening session to accommodate the quilters’ schedules. Some of the group may work at all sessions; others may work at a few.

If the quilt is not completed by the time faculty and staff return to their classrooms to prepare for the school year in late July, one member of the group takes the quilt home to finish it and add any final touches.

That final quilter sews the binding, dates it, and proudly labels the quilt as the work of the Mater Dei quilting group.

The quilt is then raffled off at the November bazaar.

Over the years, it has raised from $600 to $1600 through the effort dozens of hands over hundreds of hours.

“The ladies have spent a combined average of 320 hours per year to help us complete each of the 22 quilts for the church,” said Burke.

Staying connected

Although many of the group have moved to other parishes over the years — Burke is now a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, while others belong to St. Joseph, Most Pure Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe — they still gather for the annual quilting.

“I guess you could say we all belonged to Holy Name for so long that we still have a loyalty to the parish and parishioners,” Burke said. “This is a small way we can help out financially.

“And of course, we are all friends and enjoy catching up with everyone for two months.”

Figgs has found the experience to be a bridge between the parish and the school.

“We often talk about the school and some of its activities,” she said. “[Now people] can see a little better what their money and support are doing.”

In October, one month before the bazaar, the group usually goes out to eat together.

“Since everyone doesn’t quilt every time,” said Burke, “we don’t see the whole group together, so this gives us a chance to visit with those we didn’t see much.

“Also, by this time, the binding has been sewn on and the quilt washed, so it is an opportunity to see the finished product and, of course, to take a picture.”

Editor’s note: Mater Dei’s bazaar is on Nov. 3 from 4 to 8 p.m. and on Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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