Finding Comfort in the Cloth By John Zawadzinski


St. Patrick-St. Anthony Prayer Shawl Ministry provides more than warmth

Above, 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.


When 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.

Staff members of Interval House, Denise Schaeffer, Donna Saliter (director of development), Iris Ruiz (assistant director of Interval House), and Eva Storrs model recently
donated prayer shawls

The women were also inspired to establish the ministry at St. Patrick-St. Anthony after they witnessed friends using prayer shawls in times of personal crisis.

“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.”

The 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.


The Church of St. Patrick-St. Anthony in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.

“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 powerful.”

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 Florida.

People contact the ministry through the organization’s Web site, ( 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 community.”

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 others.

“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.”



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