By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
MESQUITE—Luann Nelson calls her sewing room her “chapel” for thousands of reasons.
Since she started the Prayer Cover Ministry at St. Pius X Catholic Church in 2000, she and the parish volunteers who joined the ministry have made more than 15,700 prayer shawls, with no two alike.
Nelson has a priest bless the oblong scarves, which measure 42 inches by 17 inches, before she and ministry members give them to those in need of prayers and comfort.
“The prayer covers can be used when you’re praying, sick or depressed, or you can wrap them around your mouth when you’re mad,” Nelson said with a smile as she sorted fabric stacks in her Mesquite home on a late October morning. “I always have one with me. When I go to the grocery store and start talking with people, if I offer them a prayer cover, most of the time they say, ‘Yes.’ ”
The ministry takes requests and charges nothing for the prayer covers, though donations are gratefully accepted, said Nelson, who prays while designing, sewing and detailing the covers in the workshop/chapel in her home.
She and Bob—her husband of 62 years—live about two miles from St. Pius X in Dallas, where they have been parishioners for 54 years.
Threading its way through her ministry is her sense that she is not entirely the seamstress here: “The Holy Spirit has been in charge completely ever since the ministry began,” Nelson said. “It’s not my ministry, it’s the Holy Spirit.”
Ministry member Peggy Ruby said that Nelson exemplifies love, service and dedication in sewing most of the covers, which feature one side with a religious theme or Gospel message and the flip side with patterns that reflect the individual recipient’s favorite pastime or special characteristic.
“It’s such a gift,” Ruby said. “Luann is the ‘Energizer Bunny’ for us. It’s such a blessing to be around such loving people. It’s a fabulous thing for us to do, as well as for the people we give the prayer covers to.”
This autumn, Nelson is making 21 prayer covers for the parish’s RCIA program members. She said that she learns something special about each member to personalize the covers.
“I bought material with themes of music, soccer and basketball,” said Nelson, a mother of six, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother of five. “I’ve had lots of helpers through the ministry’s 17 years. We pray for the people who will receive the covers while we are making them. That’s why we call them covers instead of prayer shawls.”
Ministry members keep in mind St. Paul and Acts 19:12’s message of healing using cloths as they sew, Nelson said.
Nelson, who sewed her daughters’ wedding gowns, said that she loves to see prayer covers that have grown tattered by frequent use.
“That means that they are much-loved,” said Nelson, who also volunteers in other parish ministries and at St. Pius X Catholic School. “They’re all washable when they get dirty or wrinkled.”
A thick binder in her sewing chapel holds hundreds of accounts of individual prayer covers and notes of thanks.
Ruby said that she gave prayer covers to Father Patrick Olaleye, a parochial vicar at St. Pius X, to take to loved ones on a trip to his native Nigeria.
“He came back on top of the world,” said Ruby, whose 12-year-old granddaughter learned to sew and makes prayer covers. “He said that everyone loved the prayer covers. They bring people hope, encouragement and comfort.”
Barbara Holy, who received two prayer covers from the ministry, said that she starts each day with the covers as she says her morning prayers.
“When I put a prayer cover around my shoulders, it’s like God’s arms are around me,” she said. “The covers are blessed by priests, so there is so much grace that comes from putting them on. It’s a spiritual comfort, because it’s symbolic of God’s protection. It’s a reminder to put God first in my life.”
Holy said that a prayer cover is a great source of peace.
“We sometimes get sidetracked in what we’re thinking,” Holy said. “A prayer cover helps you realize the presence of God.
“It’s just beautiful.”