(Note from Webmaster: The following article goes back to 2006, shortly after the group was founded.)

PRAYER SHAWL MINISTRY BRINGS WARMTH TO MANY

Western New York Catholic 2006

By Patrick J Buechi

Staff Reporter

Not all ladies over the age of 55 spend their free time sitting with balls of yarn and knitting needles making scarves and mittens. However one particular group of ladies does. Meeting casually once a week for little over an hour, the Prayer Shawl Ministery of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Athol Springs uses a common hobby to bring warmth to many. They knit and crochet for people who have cancer, who are depressed or who are in the hospital and need love. The ministry is comprised of 15 senior ladies from the surrounding area. They meet every Wednesday from 10:30 AM to noon to knit and crochet lap robes, shawls, caps for chemotherapy patients, hats, scarves and mittens for any who needs them. Each item contains a card with the message, "May God wrap you in the warmth of His love and the power of His Healing Hand always." A prayer is printed on the back. Once a week Father Steven Frenier, OFMConv., pastor of St. Francis, blesses the items. Angela Accascio, coordinator of the ministry, admits that what these ladies do is not unique; in fact she was inspired by another church to start this ministry. After a member of the Parkside Lutheran Church gave a shawl to a St. Francis Parishioner who had cancer of the asophagus, Accascio thought, "We have to do this." A note in the parish bulletin attracted the attention of many. "The people really seem to appreciate what we're doing, and it makes them feel good," said Shirlein Schwartzott, one of the first people in the ministry. "If we can make people feel good when they are feeling sick, it's well worth the effort." It's kind of a gift of love is what it is," said Pat Lark, another member. Since the ministry began in January, the time spent together has turned into a social hour. The ladies share ideas and help each other with difficult patterns. "We've gotten to be good friends. We look forward to this,: Accascio said. "We used to have a coffee hour with it but we stopped that because nobody wanted to stop long enough to drink coffee. We just had to keep going." As focused as they seem, the group is rather casual about their work. There is no roll call. People work at their own pace. Some ladies knit three items a week while others are still working on their first. There is no quota nor any rules to what can be made. "Everybody does what they like," Accascio said. "If they like knitting or crocheting baby things, fine. We can use anything. No restrictions. Any color. Anything you enjoy doing, that's the idea. We'll always find an outlet for it." So far 60 items have been donated to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Camp Good Days, and Special times, Harvest House and anyone who has a need and desire for them. We don't just give them because we don't know who wants them, Accascio said, adding that some people, for whatever reason, don't want them. Some equate the with death. "We like to hear people say they want one, for my mother, my friend," Accascio said. Many see the items displayed in the church sanctuary when Father Frenier blesses them. He loves the idea of the ministry. "I think it's a wonder-ful thing because you're not only giving people physical warmth, you're giving them spiritual warmth, letting them know that these ladies in the parish are not only giving them something to keep them warm but giving them something to remind them that the parish is constantly praying for them, he said. The group knitted a lap robe for their friend John Zfranski just before he entered Hospice. He died two days later. "I saw his wife at the wake and she said he loved it. She had it there at the funeral parlor draped over the kneeler and she was going to put it in the casket for burial: Accascio said."It came at the right time. Up until then he had been feeling well. This came when he came to need it." After months this casual group of friends has no plans to slow down. "I want to do more," Schwartzott said. "We're alwyas asking Angela if she's heard if anybody needs anything special, whether it be lap robes for the men, or shawls for women or whatever." Although the group is made entirely of senior ladies, they are open to men and younger people. "We don't care who comes. We'll take anybody," Accascio said.