Sister Mary Rita’s Healing Quilt

Every quilt has a story … especially this one. It belongs to my friend Mary. When she asked me if I could make a hanging sleeve for a quilt she wanted to hang, of course I said yes. When I first saw it, I knew I’d never seen anything like it. It was heavy … very heavy … and contained 120 very personal squares … each one unique … and most every single square was not made by a quilter.

It was lovingly made 20 years ago for Sister Mary Rita, my friend’s sister. Mary Rita was her oldest sibling and the oldest of six girls and seven boys. She was a Catholic nun in the order of the Humility of Mary. As a young child, my friend learned so much from her sister about unconditional love and the value of each person. Sister Mary Rita also had the inside scoop that nuns actually do have hair. She was an educator in the Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio. Mary told me her sister was well-educated, smart, compassionate, funny and so much more. Take a look at the picture taken while the family gathered for a picnic…..yes, she was also a swinging nun!

When Sister Mary Rita was in her 40’s she was diagnosed with a blood disorder and then with Multiple Myeloma. For many years she lived with her cancer, receiving treatments as needed. Mary told me her sister continued to live her life to the fullest, with little to no complaining, being more concerned about how others were doing. In her 50’s and 60’s, she took more time off and traveled with friends. The Nags Head North Carolina beach was a favorite destination.

The patchwork quilt was a thought … a discussion … between Mary Rita and her best friend, Sister Cathy Walsh, in 1994. They had seen an article in the Reader’s Digest about a healing quilt. Cathy said that talking to and seeing Mary Rita nearly every day, she sensed that Mary Rita needed to reach out to friends and family and let them know how to support her. As friends do, Cathy encouraged her. Mary Rita wrote a letter asking for prayer and/or a patch for a quilt. They created a template and sent it with the letter to family and friends, many of whom were priests and nuns. In her letter, she wrote something like “I will wrap the quilt around myself and be reminded of and feel your love.”

Patches started flowing in …. 120 are on the original quilt with scriptures, poems, embroidery, needlepoint, creative arts, photographs, a clover secured in a plastic casing and even a Cleveland police patch. Later, ten more patches came in and small lap quilt was also made.

Cathy commented that every quilt square has its own story and they all came together to share and provide Mary Rita comfort. Sister Mary Rita wrapped herself in it daily!

In November of 2001, Mary’s sister had a seizure while driving. Mary told me her family thanked God He protected her, and others on the road, after she crashed into someone’s yard. By mid-January of 2002 Sister Mary Rita was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Nine months later she passed away, but throughout her interventions and treatments she did as she always did…. lived her life to the fullest, listened and learned from the doctor and others, treasured her time with family and friends and never lost her faith.

In 2007, my friend received the quilt and it is now hanging in her guest bedroom. As guests visit, the quilt gives her the opportunity to tell others about her amazing sister and all those who touched her life.

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