NORTH MYRTLE BEACH—Ten years ago this Easter, a young ministry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church presented its first prayer shawl to help provide physical and emotional comfort to a cancer victim receiving treatment at a nearby hospital.
In the months leading up to Easter 2020, the women of the prayer shawl ministry were planning to present another shawl on Easter Sunday, as a meaningful way to celebrate God’s gift of everlasting life, while also marking the ministry’s 10th anniversary.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Parishes across the diocese closed, with Mass, including Easter, celebrated from the safety of households, via the “virtual” world of social media.
Junita Ottenstroer, who has led the ministry from its beginning at Our Lady Star of the Sea, said recently that while she and the women who knit and crochet their healing gifts understand the need to shelter-in-place and not gather in groups, they’re ready to resume their work once the all-clear arrives.
“We’re not able to get together or get to the stores for (knitting) supplies right now,” Ottenstroer said. “But, this virus will go away, and when it does we have to be ready to go.”
Prayer shawl ministry is a multi-denominational effort started by two women 22 years ago in Hartford, Conn. According to the ministry’s website, each shawl begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. Prayer intentions continue throughout the making of each shawl. Once completed, a final blessing is offered prior to delivering a shawl to its recipient.
Ottenstroer praised Msgr. Anthony Droze, former pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea, for being an advocate for the ministry. He even devoted an entire homily to the effort.
“(Father Droze) has been very supportive from the beginning,” Ottenstroer said, of a ministry that today stretches well beyond shawls. The women now make bathrobes, hats for premature babies, scarves, prayer squares, Christmas stockings and animal sleeping pads for the local Humane Society, among other items.
“Our goal is to touch as many lives as we can,” she said. “We try to include all God’s creatures.”
The ministry at Our Lady includes 10 regular volunteers — the youngest in her 40s and the rest 50 and above — who do the needlework, Ottenstroer said. A smaller group of parishioners currently create shawls and other items on their own and give them to the ministry for distribution in the community.
“The snowbirds also will bring items down with them that they have made previously, and they’ll make stuff while they’re here,” she said.
Ottenstroer said the ministry at Our Lady has modified one aspect of the original shawl ministry to bring it more in line with Catholicism.
“The prayers they suggest are beautiful but they aren’t Catholic prayers,” she said. So, Ottenstroer wrote her own prayers.
“We wanted the people to know that the Blessed Mother is putting her arms around you when you get a shawl,” Ottenstroer said, a message that also inspires the women who make them, especially in times like these.
“Yes, (the virus) is horrible, terrible,” she said. “But, you don’t just stop what you’re doing. We’re just instruments. The Blessed Mary runs the show.”