Throughout their 200-year history, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have responded during times of health crises. Whether that was in times of cholera, the Spanish flu or now with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Nazareth Sewing Ministry — also known as the Sew Sisters — has responded to the current global health crisis by sewing masks for health-care professionals, part of the #MillionMaskChallenge.
Personal protective equipment supplies are in short supply — and in some areas, such as New York City, becoming scarcer by the hour.
“It is who we are, what we’ve always done — finding a unique way to respond to this crisis,” said Sister Luke Boiarski in a video conference call March 27. Sister Boiarski is director of the Sisters of Charity Lay Volunteer Mission Program
About 35 members of the Sew Sisters group had sewn about 200 masks as of March 27.
Sister Paschal Maria Fernicola, a 92-year-old who lives on the grounds of the SCN Motherhouse in Nazareth, Ky., has made about 32 masks so far.
“I’m really grateful that I can do it,” she said. “It takes about 20 minutes to make one after it’s cut out. It’s very easy and the directions are everywhere on the internet. But the materials are hard to find,” she said.
Sister Fernicola is in self -quarantine at Nazareth to stay healthy amid the pandemic. Her comments were relayed to The Record through a chain of helpers, beginning with Sister Kelly O’Mahony, coordinator of the Motherhouse.
The first round of masks Sister Fernicola made were for the nurses at Carrico Hall, where she lives on Nazareth’s campus.
Elaine Belflowers, an SCN Associate who helped to found the Sew Sisters, launched the face mask project after a nurse friend pointed out a shortage of face masks at Nazareth.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend the use of fabric masks in the care of COVID-19 patients, the masks can be used in other areas of health care and the more protective PPE supplies can be reserved for critical cases.
“We understand these masks are not the medical standard, but are used as a last resort,” she said.
Belflowers said the sewing group has learned to change its focus as needs arise.
“From sewing sundresses for girls in Belize, to blankets for the asylum seekers and flannel and fleece pajamas on Montana’s Crow Reservation. And now, critically-needed face masks,” Belflowers said.
The Sew Sisters began in 2018 to sew clothes, mainly dresses and shorts for children in need. The group has made about 800 dresses to date. There are about 21 active women who sew items to be shared with children and families in Belize, Appalachia, Mississippi, New Orleans and Montana.
The Sew Sisters have shipped masks to Nazareth Home in Louisville; Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Ind.; and SelectCare NYC, a home health care in New York. And, the requests keep coming in, said Sister Boiarski.
“I see God operating in our lives during this time in a very unique way. For some, they just see this as sewing, but I see God using this service to really help out other people in dire need,” she said.
The pattern the Sew Sisters are using for face masks can be found at https://www.deaconess.com/How-to-make-a-Face-Mask/Documents-Mask/Mask-Information.
The hand-sewn masks require closely-knit cotton and seven inches of elastic, either rope elastic, beading cord elastic or 1/8” flat elastic. Some are using pony tail ties for elastic
Visit scnfamily.org to learn more about the Sew Sisters. Contact Sister Luke Boiarski at firstname.lastname@example.org to donate to the ministry.
Others in the Archdiocese of Louisville and across the globe have been inspired by the critical need for face masks and have set to sewing as many as they can.
Sisters of Loretto serving in Pakistan, who normally work in education, turned their sewing education center into a face mask production center last week.
“In the shops, all of a sudden masks have become so expensive, poor people cannot buy them,” said Sister Nasreen Daniel in an email March 22. “So from Monday (March 23) we will start making masks and start giving to the poor people.”
Back in Kentucky, Melissa Herberger, who works in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Faith Formation, and her daughter Helen, a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy, have made 54 masks so far. And, they have cut out material to make an additional 150.
Herberger said she and her daughter saw the need for personal protective equipment for health care professionals on the news and felt they could help in the effort.
“I found a pattern on Joann (Fabric and Craft Store’s) website and we actually had everything we needed to make them in our sewing room. Helen’s spring break service trip through Sacred Heart had been canceled and she felt like this was a way for her to still serve others this week,” Herberger said in an email.
Earlier this week, the mother-daughter duo delivered 40 masks to Baptist and Suburban hospitals. The rest went to a few local nurses and doctors they know.
“The additional masks we are making are going to go to Nazareth Home, Audubon Hospital ICU and to Glen Ridge Health Campus. We will continue to make the masks until our supplies run out and there is still a need,” she said.