By Celine Klosterman
NEWTON — Mary Haworth said she received the gift of a prayer shawl at just the right time.
The wrap she was hand-delivered in December, about when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, helps her feel the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. “I know the Lord is close. I’m so thankful they gave the shawl to me,” she said of fellow parishioners at Sacred Heart in Newton. “I’ve been at peace with the whole situation.”
Haworth is among more than 50 people who have received prayer shawls thanks to a new ministry at Sacred Heart. Since October, 14 parishioners have met weekly to knit, crochet and pray for the bereaved, the ill, caregivers and others who need emotional and spiritual solace.
“We hope it brings people security and comfort, and that they feel the shawl is God’s love wrapped around them,” said Alanna Wilson. A certified nurse’s aide at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines, she started the ministry after seeing how much shawls meant to patients who received them from well-wishers. One patient even jokingly threatened to steal her roommate’s wrap, recalled Wilson, who enjoys crocheting.
So with the encouragement of her mother, Marcia Kearney, Wilson had a notice put in Sacred Heart’s bulletin inviting parishioners to the first meeting of a prayer shawl ministry. Thirteen women and one man, including two people with disabilities, are now involved.
Parishioners pray and recite the rosary as they work. “There’s a prayer in every stitch,” Wilson said. After shawls are finished, Tammy Norcross, Sacred Heart’s pastoral minister and faith formation director, blesses them with holy water during a simple prayer service.
Group members, Deacon Dan Goetz or Father Bill Reynolds, pastor, then visit recipients to chat, pray and deliver the shawls with a crocheted cross.
Parishioner Rosemary McKinstry said she was honored to receive a beautiful shawl about a month ago as she was preparing to undergo lung surgery. “It makes you think, ‘My gosh, my church family’s behind me…’ It makes you take off for surgery feeling really loved. It’s like a big hug from Jesus.”
Recipient Shelley Hiney said the shawl was another example of how her parish has supported her during a trying year. Her husband, Bill, has been working at an Army base in Afghanistan for 12 months; her son Jordon has undergone several surgeries to repair a knee injury, and her daughter Jessica suffers from brittle bone disease.
Hiney hung the shawl in her living room, after her family also received food, assistance and blessings from parish Catholics over the past year. “It’s just wonderful to know your church family is supporting you and praying for you,” Hiney said.
The prayer shawl ministry has forged bonds of support among knitters and crocheters, too, said volunteer Natalie Balek. “We really get to know each other.” The parishioners pray for each other’s needs, she said.
“It’s just a beautiful ministry. It touches so many people’s lives, wherever they’re at.”