Story and photo by Kaelanne Jordan,
Joan Moore became “immediately inspired” after reading a National Catholic Register article ‘Blanketed by Blessings’ in 2008. It told the stories of a cancer patient and a professional umpire with a heart condition that made him unable to have knee replacement surgery, leaving him in agony for 15 years.
While their illnesses differed, a striking connection existed—both recipients of prayer shawls were comforted and “healed” enough to start a prayer blanket ministry in their parish. Moore was eager to combine her love of crocheting into a prayerful ministry to those in need of solace.
The Irish native and Opus Dei member first met with Fr Thomas Lawson OP, St Finbar’s RC parish priest, to discuss introducing the ministry at the parish.
“Obviously I couldn’t start using St Finbar’s name for a prayer ministry without sitting down and talking to him….And he gave me permission and I did up some flyers and introduced it…” Moore told Catholic News in an interview at her Carenage home.
Feedback from the parish was positive and parishioners expressed enthusiasm. Moore, who had prior experience knitting and crocheting doilies as a child, began crocheting an inventory of shawls in 2009. It was a learning process for her; the first sample took more than a month to crochet.
At that time, Moore had been employed as an accountant at Arbor preschool for six years. She purchased materials out of pocket from her go-to yarn supplier Chris Cross, a craft supplies store in Woodbrook who offered a 30 per cent discount to shawl makers.
Moore crocheted lap blankets for men in black and white (40 inches wide by 40 inches long); coloured women’s shawls (24 inches deep by 60 inches long); and baby blankets each attached with a prayer card. Colours selected were intentional, symbolic of either friendship, bravery, spirituality and love. Over time, Moore said that she became “faster” adding that she crocheted four days “straight on her own”.
“All 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock in the morning, she sitting down in bed crocheting…. Sometimes I use to get vex and say ‘Go to sleep…’ All hours she up…but it was for a good cause,” her husband Knolly said. The finished products were then sorted in batches of 20 and more, and placed on the altar to be blessed at the end of Masses.
Blessings prayed into every stitch
The origination of the prayer shawl is found in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses wrote that God told him to instruct the men to make tassels for their clothes to remember God’s commands (Num 15:38–40) and to place the tassels on the four corners of their cloak (Deut 22:12).
It is believed that blessings come to those who receive prayer shawls and those who make them, thus the right frame of mind when crocheting these shawls is critical.
“… I use to tell the Lord: ‘Jesus I don’t know who’s gonna get this shawl but You know who’s going to get it and You know what I want. I want when they wrap themselves in the shawl, they will feel Your loving arms around them’.”
The shawls were given at no charge to those in need upon completion of a request form, a policy to which some objected. “…you don’t want a situation where people receive two or three prayer shawls and then people who in need can’t get any,” she explained.
Knolly stressed “You can’t sell that. It’s blessed. If you sell it, the blessing goes off of it,” he said, adding that donations in the form of materials are appreciated.
The prayer shawls were also distributed in areas outside the Archdiocese and to non-Catholics. In 2011, with the blessing of then parish priest Fr Michael Hayden OP, Moore dispatched eight shawls—four female shawls, two male lap blankets and two baby blankets to a Catholic charity in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.
During the interview, she shared numerous stories of persons who said that they were “healed” upon receiving these shawls. One particular story was of her friend who was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. Upon receiving a shawl, she contacted Moore three weeks later to relay that her initial stage 2 diagnosis was now at stage 1. “And she said to me, she’s certain it was the shawl.”
Lack of support halts ministry
Moore suffered a stroke in June 2015 upon return from celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of her brother Canon Seamus Cunnana, retired parish priest in Cardigan, Wales, to the priesthood. Her left side is now paralysed.
“If I was able to use my left arm I would be crocheting still,” she said. She had contacted a few persons to continue the prayer shawl ministry but their inability to commit full-time eventually meant that the ministry “fizzled”.
“…She used to have prayer shawl meetings every week…one or two people might come…,” her husband Knolly said. And “many times you will see me sitting there by myself,” Moore added.
According to Knolly, a collection of prayer shawls is stocked in a “special room” in the parish. He said that interested persons can contact the parish and he will collect and distribute.
Now bed-bound, Moore expressed nostalgia for her crocheting days and being witness to recipients’ “miracle” stories. She now has one shawl in her possession.
Her husband Knolly said that he felt “sad” at the lack of buy-in in the ministry. He also expressed guilt that he wasn’t too involved in the process from inception.
“I can’t crochet but if I could I would,” he said.
His wife looked lovingly at her husband of 50 years, adding “but he’s the best caregiver in the world”.
If you know someone in need of a prayer shawl you can contact the St Finbar’s parish at 632-4126.