members of the Prayer Shawl Ministry, Judith Cardoni, Ginny Owens,
Eileen Fuller, Janet Bristow and Jane Gallagher, display their recent
efforts. (lower right) Sarah and Jeanne Ebaugh feeling the quality of
the fine work.
Jeanne Ebaugh’s 47-year-old husband committed suicide last year, she
found comfort in an unlikely source—a donated prayer shawl.
The purple stitched shawl, measuring approximately 91 inches in length,
was given to her by Elaine Waitr, a member of the prayer shawl ministry
at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, Conn.
Mrs. Waitr personally delivered the shawl to Mrs. Ebaugh’s home in
Glastonbury, Conn., one month after her husband committed suicide.
The cloth was given as a gesture of support and compassion from the
women of the St. Patrick-St. Anthony Prayer Shawl Ministry and the
entire parish community.
“I thought it was
so beautiful when I opened it,” said Mrs. Ebaugh, who was left to
raise three children, then ages 8, 14 and 17, when her husband passed.
“It was the most beautiful shade of purple and I was honored to be the
recipient. That shawl was like my suit of armor. I could put it on and I
knew I would be all right. It was my lifeline.”
The shawl also provided comfort to Mrs. Ebaugh’s daughter, Sarah, who
said her father’s suicide was “the worst day of my life,”
occurring two weeks before her 9th birthday.
Sarah used the shawl during her bereavement period, often wrapping it
around her while she prayed.
“That shawl gave her strength and support,” Mrs. Ebaugh said. “She
felt the connection with the shawl ministry and the members of St.
Patrick-St. Anthony Church.”
Janet Bristow, a parishioner of St. Patrick-St. Anthony, and Victoria
Cole-Galo were responsible for establishing the prayer shawl ministry in
1998 after they studied feminist spirituality at the Women’s
Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary.
women were also inspired to establish the ministry at St. Patrick-St.
Anthony after they witnessed friends using prayer shawls in times of
“In my experience, this woman’s prayer shawl was very important
because it gave her comfort and kept her grounded,” said Mrs. Bristow,
a resident of Farmington. “I was very inspired and I knew knitting a
shawl was something that I could do.”
Prayer Shawl Log containing the names of those
who have donated their efforts to the ministry.
The knitted garments have also been called prayer, comfort, healing or
friendship shawls and are given to people undergoing medical procedures
or those who are grieving from the loss of a loved one. They are also
used to enhance prayer or meditation or given to mark special occasions,
including birthdays, the birth of a child, or anniversaries.
Church of St. Patrick-St. Anthony in downtown Hartford,
“What impressed me most about the prayer shawl ministry was its
simplicity and its effectiveness,” said Patricia Curtis, pastoral
associate at St. Patrick-St. Anthony. “These shawls are given from a
place of compassion and caring, and what these women are doing is so
Since the women introduced the ministry at St. Patrick-St. Anthony, they
have expanded it to other churches and communities. The women have
spread the ministry’s message through word of mouth and by leading
prayer shawl workshops at churches in Pennsylvania, New England and
People contact the ministry through the organization’s Web site,
(www.shawlministry.com) to share their stories and to request a shawl
for either themselves or others. The group recently donated shawls to
women living in Iraq, Jerusalem and Afghanistan.
“I never expected this to be a worldwide movement,” Mrs. Bristow
said. “It’s really awesome. I feel so blessed and humbled to have
helped start this ministry.”
The members of the prayer shawl ministry knit the shawls on their own
time, but gather as a group once a month at St. Patrick-St. Anthony.
At the beginning of each meeting, the group members offer prayers and
blessings for the shawl recipients—some they know personally and some
who remain anonymous. Those intentions are continued throughout the
creation of the shawl, while group members often take turns knitting
each other’s shawls as a way to form community.
The shawls are sometimes knitted with the three-stitch pattern, which
has a number of meanings, including the Trinity, healing, comfort and
love. The color schemes selected for each shawl are also significant.
Each color holds a different meaning: red symbolizes love, passion and
energy, while yellow symbolizes faith and optimism, just to name a few.
“The Franciscans are
always looking for new and different ways that parishioners can minister
to each other,” Mrs. Bristow said. “This ministry empowers women to
bring their gifts and talents as a way to bring joy to others.”
In addition, the ministry also contributes a number of shawls to those
living within the Hartford community. Each month, 10 shawls are donated
to the women of Interval House, a non-profit organization that provides
support to victims of domestic violence.
According to Elizabeth Beyrer, director of community relations at
Interval House, the recipients are very appreciative of the shawls that
have been made especially for them. Each donated shawl includes a
descriptive letter explaining the ministry and its origin.
“These shawls have a tremendous impact because they are helping others
to heal,” she said. “It’s a powerful message. It’s people
helping people and it’s also a reminder of the generosity of the
Since the prayer shawl ministry was established in Hartford, it has
grown tremendously. Mrs. Bristow points out the ministry’s success is
based on its simplicity and effectiveness, combined with the
participants’ willingness to share their gifts and talents with
“It was a grass roots project that crosses all different
boundaries,” she said. “There are no politics involved because
we’re not selling anything or asking for anything in return. This
ministry is simple, but it’s universal and it really inspires and
empowers so many people.”