When Sister Donna Brunell began sewing in the convent, she had no idea it would turn into a lifelong passion. However, what began as a functional tool to create habits and then lay clothing soon blossomed into a hobby and then a ministry.
“Art that lifts the spirit is the kind of art that I want to do,” Sister Donna says. “I want to make the kind of art that makes people feel good inside when they see it.”
After attending a retreat for quilters in early 2002, Sister Donna began to devote more time to quilting. Ultimately, it led her to create Patchwork and Prayers Ministry, which is a segment of her Hands for Hope program at Mariandale. Using donated fabric, Patchwork for Prayers creates quilts for the poor and homeless in New York and Nicaragua.
Patchwork and Prayers connects with extant ministries of other Dominican Sisters of Hope: Sister Debbie Blow takes quilts to the children and adults she serves in Nicaragua. Others go to the Newburgh Ministry, an organization that serves families in the Newburgh, NY area. Projects of the ministry have included baby quilts for young mothers, quilts for children in orphanages, and quilts for senior, abandoned adults. Since its inception, Patchwork for Prayers has donated over thirty quilts altogether.
As Sister Donna puts it, she hopes that the quilts communicate to recipients that “somebody cares about you.”
“We make quilts to bring comfort to people,” she says.
Creativity has long been an integral part of the Dominican Sisters’ charism. Mother Mary Joseph, an early member of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena (Sister Donna’s original congregation, now the Dominican Sisters of Hope), did oil paintings. Sister Mary Carmel did “meticulous” enameling on fine china. Sister Dalmace was an oil painter. Sister Gertrude has done wood carvings and even designed the Coat of Arms for Bishops.
The sisters’ art studio was a treasured space in the Dominican Sisters convent in Fall River, MA: the sisters maintained the studio from their founding in the late 1890s until Sister Gertrude Gaudette moved to the Landmark after the Fall River convent was sold.
“We were very creative as a congregation,” Sister Donna recalls. “I always dreamed I would continue that legacy.”
With her current Patchwork and Prayers Ministry in Ossining, NY, Sister Donna welcomes others to join her in this mission. With the help of other avid quilt makers in the local community, creativity and quilting become a shared experience.
“It’s just great for us to get together,” Sister Donna says. “We share techniques and stories; we help each other out. We let go of all of the things of everyday life and focus on doing something nice for somebody.”
Beginners and even non-quilters are welcome; Sister Donna notes that anyone interested can come and be creative together in a prayerful, social space.
After all, while the quilts are certainly important, the experience of piecing in peace –and finding God in the creative process—is the crux of Sister Donna’s ministry.
“Being creative fosters a connection with God as Creator and Imagineer,” Sister Donna reflects. “Anytime I am piecing, I am feeling peaceful.”