Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 15, 1872 when the first baptism was recorded at St. Peter's Church, New Britain. The child's name was, Joseph Graff.
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Pg1-sewingFrom left, Debbie Michaud, Sandy Rokosz, Billie Russo and Terry Farnham (Photo by Lenora Sumsky)

ROCKY HILL – Creating, caring and sharing: that’s what women of the Sew Good Works Ministry of St. James Parish have been doing for nearly a decade. Recently, members shared more than their creations by extending their skills, supplies and passion for stitching to help create a sewing group in Hartford.

The Knit, Crochet and Sew Good Works Ministry that began creating items of warmth and comfort in 2001 has made and donated more than 8,500 items to organizations that help those in need.

A recent grant from the Vicariate Outreach Program of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal made it possible for the Sew Good Works Ministry to help establish a similar group for residents of the Frog Hollow neighborhood in Hartford.

"We couldn’t have done it without the grant," said Gene D’Onofrio, who, with Sandy Rokosz, co-founded and co-chair the Rocky Hill group. "The money that we get from the grant allows us to do things that we wouldn’t normally be able to do."

The Vicariate Outreach Program, begun 14 years ago, provides financial assistance to worthy community-based charities and enables local Catholics to reach beyond their parishes and live the Gospel message by responding to the needs of others. Last year, the program distributed $738,500 to more than 250 local charities.

The Sew Good Works Ministry used part of the $1,500 grant it received to service seven used sewing machines that the ministry donated to Billings Forge Community Works, a nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing the Frog Hollow neighborhood by strengthening community, nourishing creativity and offering education and job training to residents. Sew Good Works Ministry also provided such supplies as needles, thread, yarn, fabrics, and other sewing notions.

The goal was to help Frog Hollow residents establish a group of their own, said Mrs. D’Onofrio.

Initially, she and Mrs. Rokosz attended weekly meetings at Billings Forge to help start a beginners’ knitting, crocheting and sewing class. Now, they make themselves available when needed. "Our objective was to give them the skills and create leadership within their group. It’s their community, but we are just facilitating the project," said Mrs. Rokosz.

The Billings Forge group, called Stitches Sewing, is led by instructor Jose Santiago. He is an expert tailor who also knows how to take apart the sewing machines and put them back together. What he didn’t know was how to moderate the group, said Mrs. D’Onofrio.

"That’s what we facilitated for him," she said.

Stitches Sewing members began by making such simple projects as placemats, napkin sets, table runners, aprons and purses. For every item they make for themselves, they make a similar item for others. The group sells some of its handmade creations at the Farmers Market at Billings Forge. Proceeds go back to the group and are used to purchase materials and supplies.

"It was a fantastic idea," said Janice LaMotta, program coordinator for the Studio at Billings Forge. The community-based group empowers people to learn and create.

People with varying degrees of skill and different backgrounds come together to sew, said Ms. LaMotta. She added that it’s a casual atmosphere, people have a nice time and they help one another.

"It is a great boost to confidence, and residents are developing tangible skills and entrepreneurial sensitivity," she said.

The Stitches Sewing group reaches out to its community. Neighborhood children hand-paint scarves that the group makes. The group recently created a collaborative quilt in support of a community-wide effort, and it plans to sew costumes for a West Hartford theater group.

Meanwhile, back in Rocky Hill, the Sew Good Works Ministry continues to sew good works within its parish, in Greater Hartford and around the world.

Recently, members made decorative banners for the church as well as vestments, including chasubles, dalmatics and choir robes. The colorful vestments are just some of the many types of specialty items made and donated by the enthusiastic and energetic women of Sew Good Works Ministry.

They make nightcaps for local cancer patients and uniquely designed little armpit support pillows for recovering breast cancer patients. The ladies sew pajamas, knit socks, and make slippers for women and children in domestic violence shelters.

The St. James group also crochets little hats for newborns in developing countries.

"Two years ago, they made first Communion dresses for little girls in Hartford who could not afford them," said Father David Baranowski, Pastor of St. James. "These ladies took such loving care."

He said that "the beauty of this is that the ladies are giving out of the generosity of their hearts, and those who receive the gifts may never see you but they will know that there’s somebody out there who cares about them."

Sew Good Works has about 50 members; about 25 attend on a regular basis. Some members take home projects to knit or crochet in their spare time. Each year, they knit and crochet approximately 150 prayer shawls for residents of Maple View Manor and Apple Rehab facilities in Rocky Hill.

This month, Father Baranowski will bless the shawls that will be given to residents after they are anointed during prayer services held at the nursing care residences.

"The shawls have been made while people are praying, so the prayer is woven into them. As [residents] wear them, they are wrapped in prayer," said Father Baranowski.

"It’s a great outreach. It builds a sense of community and it also builds a sense of outreach because everything they make is given away. That’s the premise of Sew Good Works," he said.

Mrs. D’Onofrio said that most of the materials the group uses are donations. "We take unused items [fabric and yarn] and turn them into usable items for people who really need them," she said.

"It’s been even better since the bishop [Archbishop Henry J. Mansell] has helped us," said Claire Casparino, who has been a member of the group for about five years. "I enjoy sewing and knitting; it feels very rewarding to help others."

Information about the Sew Good Works Ministry is available from Mrs. D’Onofrio at (860) 563-1743 or Mrs. Rokosz at (860) 666-7884.