In this episode, Rocky Pierson shares her conversation with #NCSW2017 mini grant recipient Sister Belinda Monahan, OSB. Sr Belinda talks about the inspiration for, participation in, and outcome of Knit And Give, an event to create knit winterwear to be donated to those in need.
Last season we shared interviews with just some of the people who held events for NCSW 2016. What was really cool for me as Pa Ying Vang and I worked on this season was to see those participants working on new ideas for NCSW 2017. It was fun to see participants get inspired by their first event and find new and increasingly creative ways to celebrate and bring in their local community. One of those participants was Sr Belinda Monahan. In season one she talked with us about her 2016 event centered around prayer. This season I talked to here twice, one before and once after the event, to talk about a very different project.
Sr Belinda Monahan:
Sister Belinda Monahan I'm a Benedictine Sister of Chicago. I'm the vocation minister of the community.
Sr Belinda Monahan:
The event is called Knit And Give, and we're actually including crocheting in this as well. And, what we're going to do is we're getting a group of young women together with sisters, and we're going to be knitting and crocheting items such as hats, mittens, scarves, and teddy bears that will go to people who need them. So, the hats and mittens and scarves, one of our sisters works at Fourth Presbyterian Church down on Michigan Avenue, and they have an outreach for people who are homeless. So, they will give them to people who are homeless. And the teddy bears and other stuffed animals, one of our sisters manages an after school program in a neighborhood that things like that will be needed. And, she'll give them out as prizes for the kids who come to the after school programs.
We've promised to teach anybody who wants to learn how to knit to knit. So, we'll have some sisters and maybe some community oblates on hand who know how to knit to teach people who don't know how to knit or crochet how to do that. We'll have some sisters who are practiced knitters there to help out, and we'll just have some sisters around to visit and maybe talk about their lives of service and the other ways that they have served people throughout their lives. It's doing something together instead of kind of just sitting around and talking. I find that I tend to get to know people much better through a shared activity. And so that was one of the ideas behind the event.
I actually started with the idea of service. So many of our sisters can no longer go out of the monastery to do active service. And, they're not involved in regular ministry. So, I tried to think of an event that would allow them to become involved in the kinds of service that they can do. And, things like knitting and crocheting and being present to young people, I thought that was an important piece of it too. So, I'm excited about it. I'm excited.
I do want to emphasize one kind of thing, the reason I came up with the knitting project. We had one sister who was over 100 years old, and she was almost completely blind and had a very hard time hearing. And yet, she spent many many years crocheting Afghans and scarves. And, a couple of years ago, and I think that was around her 100th birthday, she made scarves for every single one of the aides in the infirmary. So, they all have these very very colorful scarves because she couldn't see all that well, so her sense of color wasn't good. And, I was so excited to have sister Mercedes joining us for this event. And, sadly sister Mercedes died the week before her 102nd birthday, at the end of last month. So, part of this is kind of with Sister Mercedes in mind, who lived this life of service up until almost the time she died. But, crocheting was one of those kind of big pieces of service when I knew her. So, I just I feel compelled to talk about Sister Mercedes when I think about this event.
For the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago this event would serve many purposes. I would be a celebration of NCSW, it would be a moment to engage with young women in their local community, and Knit And Give would be a memorial to Sr Mercedes.
What did you learn or take away from this experience?
Sr Belinda Monahan:
We had a lot of fun together, and we produced some good items to give away. People still want to be of service; both old and young people still want to be of service. And, that it's much more fun to do together in a group than individually.
I also learned, to be honest, that my assumption when I started out was that every woman of a certain generation, which is to say generations ahead of me had learned to knit at some point, and that turned out not to be true. So, that was an interesting learning thing. And, that young people do want to learn to knit and do other crafts like that.
In terms of building on, we didn't finish everything we were working on. Some people started scarves and hats that they didn't finish. So, I'd like to invite the women back to the monastery who haven't finished to finish their items, and to use the materials that we currently have from the event that we didn't use up to start a new one. And, in terms of building on in other ways, one of the things that happened that for me was unexpected was a woman whose mother attended our school, and who now lives in the outlying suburbs, contacted me the week before the event and she's in a group that regularly knits for a battered woman's shelter. She contacted me to ask whether we had a place to give the completed items, and I assured her we did. But, we also had a large amount of yarn from a sister who had died recently. And so, we wound up offering that to her. Now, for various reasons, she didn't wind up taking it, but we are still kind of keeping in touch, and I'm hoping to get out to see her at some point. And so, we're building relationships in that way as well. I'm very excited about that completely unexpected new relationship.
One of the sisters said, “I heard you all laughing, and it's such a delight to hear young people laughing together like that.” And, that was kind of the moment that as has stuck with me. But, I didn't notice it at the time because we were laughing. It's kind of entertaining to watch people learn together in the group. It didn't feel at all tedious. I mean we, you know, the first time somebody finished a row she's held it up and we were all excited. You know, “you finished a row on your hat!” You know, it didn't seem to take long. I don't think anybody thought, “oh my gosh I'm never going to finish this, and I'm I'm dreadfully bored,” because we just kept talking and laughing. So, it was great.