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For local nun, hats are part of her ministry

Date: 11/20/2014

WEST SPRINGFIELD – Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart Sawicki fondly remembers a time in her childhood when a neighborhood friend was touched by the Salvation Army, and that encounter has stayed with her for more than 50 years.

“I saw how a small gift given by the Salvation Army to help a family in need made a big impression on a child,” she said during a recent lunchtime interview at the Monastery of the Mother of God with Reminder Publications.

She noted she was “so touched” by that experience that in her religious life she knew she wanted to replicate that feeling for others.

Sister Mary recently celebrated her 50th year of religious life and through many of those years, she has crocheted hats for children of prisoners at the Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, N.Y.

“I heard of the program through a nun friend in Elmira and am in contact with the woman involved in the prison ministry,” she said.

Each year, Sister Mary sends the hats to Theresa Bucci who works at the hospitality center at the correctional facility. Bucci is one of many volunteers who provide breakfast and snacks to family members of the prisoners who visit on weekends and she delivers the hats each holiday season to the prison’s volunteer coordinator.

Sister Mary notes that the pattern of the hat is a basic and simple one.

“I have made so many hats that I know it by memory,” she said.

She adds she does “get creative and tries different things with the pattern,” adding color combination rows and changing various stitches.

“The hats are a sort of double gift in that the ministry program counts the volunteer hours and there is a matching grant involved that benefits the prisoners in their rehabilitation,” she said.

Some years she has made 50 hats or more but this year, due to an arm and shoulder injury, she was a bit sidelined.

“Making the hats makes a difference because it shows that people care,” she said.

For Sister Mary, her days are full so she rejoices when she has some down time to crochet since it takes her up to three hours to complete one hat.

“I do them as I have time and hold them until close to Thanksgiving time,” she said, noting they are then sent to Bucci for the prison’s Christmas program.

“It gives me joy, knowing that they brighten the lives of youngsters who have a lot of challenges in their lives,” she continued.

Sister Mary added that some sisters at the monastery also crochet afghans which are given to Bethlehem House of Western Massachusetts, a pregnancy care center offering support, based in Easthampton.

Sister Mary is also the author of two books, “A Celebration of Surprises,” which commemorated the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Nuns, and a meditative prayer book, “The Hummer and the Hummed.” She is currently taking a distance writing course on the nuns in Central and South America. The scholarly writing projects on the Dominican Nuns has expanded Sister Mary’s knowledge of the early struggles, situations and poverty that the nuns endured in the name of their faith.

As the holiday season fast approaches, Sister Mary will soon find herself and the other sisters busily preparing for Christmas.

“I’ve grown spiritually through the years on my journey of faith,” she said. “Our walk is for the love of God and love of our neighbors.”