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Working with their hands, ministry brings comfort

The first thing someone who receives a hand-sewn shawl or lap blanket from the Prayer Shawl Ministry at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church Parish in Mandeville sees is that the gift is sewn with love, hope and blessings.

These words are written on an attached label, along with the comforting messages, “Made especially for you” and “You are in our prayers.”

“You’re supposed to say a prayer as you are working on each one,” member Bonnie Blanke said about the hand-made shawls and blankets.  “Sometimes you know who you are making it for, and sometimes it comes to you. Sometimes you just make them, and they are given out when needed.”

Gloria Sellars founded the group in April 2014 and, ever since, has been giving the members’ labors of love to those “having a mental or emotional crisis or just in need of comfort.”

“A friend of mine had been ill, and I made him one,” Sellars said. “After he passed away, his daughter gave it to someone else and she had all kinds of problems, and she got better. So, I thought of the idea and brought it to our pastor and he said, ‘Go with it.’”

The parish assists by printing the group’s brochures, donation basket labels and collecting material.

“It’s a church ministry,” Sellars, who crochets, said. “That’s what it started out to be, and that’s what it is.”

Camaraderie, friendship

The group has grown from five founding members to approximately a dozen regulars meeting on Tuesdays after the 9 a.m. Mass or Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. in the Parish Life Center fellowship room.

Not everyone is an experienced crocheter or knitter, either. Although member Bessie Sumrall has been crocheting for 60 years as a hobby, Lori Hahn is a relative newcomer.

“I enjoy crocheting, especially for babies,” Sumrall said. “It’s very relaxing. It’s like therapy. ... And it gets me away from my problems at home. I can leave them there.”

Jeanne Cook recalled knitting one slipper after being taught by her best’s friend’s mom.

“What happened to the other one,” Hahn asked her.

“I never did finish,” Cook said, laughing. “But these (prayer shawls) I do finish.”

Finally got the size correct
Cook added that the first shawl she made wasn’t the correct size and is now used by her granddaughter’s cat. “The next one, I made the right size.”

Member Jo Bocklud doesn’t knit or crochet, but she has sewn more than 300 blankets for the group. Members are happy to teach newcomers.

If someone can’t make the meetings but wants to sew, knit or crochet shawls or blankets at home, that’s fine, too. The group can supply the material, yarn or thread.

“It makes you feel good that you can make someone who is not feeling well a little better,” one member said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

“It’s more than that,” said Rai Lynne Jarabica, who started crocheting at age 9 and picked it up again in 1988 when her grandson was born. “We enjoy each other, and it’s a way of sharing things.” Jarabica has been told that a man she gave a shawl to puts it on his shoulders and says his prayers.

To make their ministry known, members have spoken at church, put notices in the parish bulletin and visited senior and community groups and even nursing homes throughout St. Tammany Parish to hand out the shawls and blankets.

“We went to the Pontchartrain Guest House and gave everybody in there one, Catholic or not,” Sellars said.

Ministry is appreciated
They have received much appreciation for their efforts.

“These are made for more than the sick and elderly,” Jarabica, the group’s publicist, said. Shawls and blankets also have been given out to those becoming Catholic through RCIA and even to individuals for weddings and births.

Group members said most of the materials used are donated. If a monetary contribution is made, it goes right back into the ministry through the purchase of yarn, material and thread. Donations of materials can be made in the parish office or in red buckets in retail outlets throughout Mandeville. 

As a special bonus, each shawl is blessed by a priest.

For details on joining or to donate fabric, yarn, thread or money to keep the ministry going, call Sellars at (985) 626-3247 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . To obtain a blanket visit the parish office at 312 Lafitte St., Mandeville or call (985) 626-5671.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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