April 6 was a special day for Sally Boyes and her family. Actually, it’s always a special day for Boyes — a member of the St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster in Phelps and Clifton Springs — because it’s her birthday. This year, however, the date unexpectedly took on extra meaning.
Last year, Boyes found out that her niece was expected to have a baby on April 6. But the baby girl apparently had other ideas, and was born dangerously premature on Christmas Eve. After months of praying and worrying, Boyes finally learned that little Caroline Grace O’Connell would be strong enough to come home from the hospital — on April 6.
“She’s thriving now. So many people in the parish prayed for my niece,” Boyes said. “I’m so grateful. I really do believe it was the prayers of the people that helped her live.”
Boyes still prays for her grandniece every day, and recently found a new way to care for the little girl. Last month, Boyes and two other women from the cluster formed a prayer-shawl ministry, and Boyes plans to send her first shawl to Caroline and her mother.
Boyes, Mary Ellen Darling and Sheila Rice decided to form the ministry at the suggestion of the cluster’s pastoral administrator, Sister Joan Sobala, SSJ. The three women have modeled their group on a prayer-shawl ministry at Guardian Angels Parish in Henrietta, Boyes said. They’ve also used literature written by Janet Bristow and Victoria Cole-Galo, the founders of prayer-shawl ministry.
Members of prayer-shawl ministries knit or crochet shawls while praying for their recipients, who might be going through crises or otherwise need some extra love and comfort.
“They’re also for happy occasions,” Boyes said. “It’s not just for someone taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient or a cancer patient.”
The prayer shawls will also be blessed in church before they’re delivered to the recipients, she noted. Some shawls — like the one she’s knitting for Caroline — are created with specific people in mind. Other shawls will be stored at the church and distributed as people need them.
“The Eucharistic ministers (who visit homebound and sick parishioners) can take them out in the community and deliver them to whoever they’re seeing,” she said.
Even though they may not know who will eventually receive the shawls they create, members of the ministry still pour their love and prayers into the shawls. Darling said she hopes the calm and peaceful feeling she gets when she knits the shawls will somehow be transferred to those who receive them.
Darling, who learned how to knit as a young girl, said it took her about a week to finish her first shawl, which was a soft, green color. She’s now working on a mint-green one, and takes the project with her when she runs errands. People sometimes stop to admire the shawl and ask her what it’s for.
“I say, ‘It’s a prayer shawl I’m making for someone who may need a little extra comfort and support,'” Darling said. “It’s made with a lot of love and support. If I were ever in need of some comfort, I think I would like to have something like that.”
Darling said she decided to join the fledgling ministry because she loves to knit and is always looking for ways to give back to her church and community.
“It all fit into place. My faith is getting stronger as I get older, so I really enjoy giving something that I do pretty well back to someone who might need that comfort,” she said.
Even though she makes prayer shawls for strangers, they mean just as much to her as the items she knits for her own children and grandchildren, Darling said.
“To me it’s just so comforting to do it and have a really good reason like this,” she added.
Boyes said knitting the shawls relaxes her, and she’s grateful for the chance to make the recipients feel happy and cared for.
“It’s just a nice way to think of people,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The parish cluster’s prayer-shawl ministry is looking for new members and is open to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. For more information contact the cluster office at 315/462-2961.