Call to religious life leaves young woman seeking help on making her postulant dress
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LENEXA — When Holy Trinity parishioner Pam McGowan decided to answer the call to join the religious life, the last thing she thought she would have to worry about was her wardrobe.
But she soon found out that postulants entering her chosen order, theServants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, traditionally make their own postulant skirts.
No pattern is available; girls are just given a basic description of what’s required: a gray floor-length skirt with two front pleats and a pocket.
McGowan didn’t have a clue where to begin. She had just graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison with degrees in elementary and special education, not fashion design.
So she thought a little, prayed a lot, and finally turned to her friends on Facebook by posting an open plea.
“If anyone knows how to make a two pleated skirt with a pocket,” she wrote, “let me know, because I don’t know how.”
Fortunately for McGowan, Melissa Wasserman was a Facebook friend. The two had been classmates at Holy Trinity Grade School in Lenexa and St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.
Wasserman had just earned a degree in apparel design and merchandising from Iowa State University. She had interned summers in New York and studied fashion design in Italy.
She felt pretty confident about making a two-pleated skirt.
“If you need help, I’ll help you,” she posted back
McGowan jumped at the offer, and the two girls reconnected to design a high-fashion postulant skirt.
It truly was a match made in heaven.
Called to serve
Both girls had begun to discern their future vocations while students at Aquinas.
McGowan first felt her calling on a retreat during her junior year.
“They always have this point in a retreat where they have people come up who think they’re called to religious life,” she said.
When that point came, McGowan surprised herself as much as her friends.
“I remember standing up without being in control of my body and walking, crying my eyes out,” she said. “I came back and everyone was, like, ‘Really?’ And I was, like, ‘I have no idea.’”
Though McGowan denied the calling for a long time, she began to talk with God about the possibility.
“I had a list of things,” she recalled. “And I said, ‘God, if you want me to be a Sister, you have to prove to me that I can live without these.’
“And surprisingly, with the experiences I went through from day to day, he checked every single one off the list.”
Her biggest concern was making a commitment that would take her away from family and friends. During a two-month mission trip to India, that issue was put to rest.
“You can’t just fly home and see your family when you’re in India,” McGowan said. “But I had the time of my life there.
“Now I’m OK with being away from my family, that far away. God made me comfortable with that.”
McGowan chose to join the Servants of the Lord because she embraced their mission.
“Everything they did incorporated everything I love: mission work, teaching, and working with children with handicaps or disabilities,” she said.
She visited the Sisters in Washington, D.C., and knew she’d made the right choice.
“When I got there, I felt like I was being welcomed by my extended family,” she said. “There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t feel accepted and loved.
“I knew in that moment that this is where I’m supposed to be.
“This is home.”
Called to create
Wasserman also found her calling when she was in high school and happened to take a sewing class.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said, “and I got more interested in it as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”
What she wanted to do was find a career that would incorporate her love for her mother’s homeland, Guatemala.
For years, her family had spent part of each summer helping at the San Lucas Mission there. Wasserman loved the beautiful weaving done by the local women.
“I really wanted to do something that could give back to Guatemala,” she said. “And so I studied apparel design, hoping I could work with indigenous textiles and weaving.
“Eventually, I’d like to have my own company that promotes fair trade.”
Wasserman also hopes to promote the idea that clothes can grab attention without being immodest.
“I think there are tasteful ways to be edgy without having to compromise your body,” she said. “There’s a lot of beauty in simplicity.
“You don’t have to wear see-through tops, or show a lot of skin to create a moment or grab someone’s attention.
“Sometimes a really beautiful garment, if it’s done well, will grab more attention.”
While she organized her portfolio in preparation for her job search, Wasserman was happy to help an old friend.
“I know it must be hard to move away,” she said. “And so I just wanted to give a little something to Pam.
“If I can take away the stress of having to make a skirt, then I’m very willing to do it. This is a blessing.”
Grateful for Wasserman’s help and hoping to minimize her work, McGowan bought some gray fabric for the project.
“Then Melissa informed me I should probably pick different fabric,” she said.
“It was fabric you would use for a suit in winter,” Wasserman said. “I thought if she was going to wear it in the summer, in a full-length skirt, it was going to be really hot and uncomfortable.”
McGowan had picked up a few other items at the fabric store, with similar success.
“It was funny,” said Wasserman. “She brought me a bag of things, and she’d bought the wrong fabric and the wrong zipper and the wrong — pretty much everything else.
“So I said, ‘I’ll just take it from here.’”
The effort Wasserman put into making the perfect postulant skirt was impressive.
She sketched out a skirt design, took measurements and then created a pattern tailored to McGowan.
Next, she used the pattern to make a mock-skirt from muslin fabric.
She tried the mock-skirt on McGowan, made adjustments for a perfect fit, and then sewed her final product.
The tailor-made result went beyond McGowan’s dreams. And the best part was a little hidden flair that would always remind her of Wasserman.
McGowan was delighted when she saw that her friend had lined the waistband of her postulant skirt with a piece of beautifully patterned Guatemalan fabric.
Wasserman’s emphasis in college was creative design, and she couldn’t help but put her stamp on this creation.
Now, McGowan can’t wait to make this skirt the center of her wardrobe.
“I might be one of the least fashion-conscious persons you’ve ever met,” she said. “I’m not even joking.
“I can’t wait till the day when it doesn’t matter what I wear, and I just put on my habit.”
Wasserman feels blessed to be a little part of that future.
“Pam’s journey,” she said, “has been really inspirational.
“And I’m thankful I got to participate in it personally.”