By Kaelanne Jordan
Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena have taken up needle and thread in response to “flattening the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local front.
The idea of sewing face masks was simply inspired through constant prayer, Sr Sandra Xavier OP told Catholic News via phone.
“I would say on a personal level St Matthew’s Gospel 10: 8, that is really what touched me. ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give’.”
“I said, ‘Lord, you have given me so much, what can I give back?’”
Sr Sandra told Catholic News that she initially had two ideas: Sisters preparing hot meals daily or making some kind of garment. “I didn’t think of [what] garment at the time until the news said people ran out of masks,” she said.
Sr Sandra has been solely responsible for sewing the face masks, a task she began April 1. As of Friday night (April 10), Sr shared she has sewn 119 face masks for frontline workers.
Sewing, she explained is not new to her. In fact, Sr Sandra has been sewing since age five. She had come from a family where her mother taught her and her siblings to sew.
The inspiration to sew face masks was also inspired by a request by Sr Debbie Ramdhanie, a Registered Nurse at St George’s Health Centre.
“She called me and said ‘Listen you know what we need, we need masks…make some masks for me because we paying $30 for one… I know yours will be cheaper than $30’,” Sr Sandra shared of their conversation.
After speaking to Sr Therese Antoine, Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters Sr Sandra took on the initiative.
There is no cost attached to the face masks.
“It’s our gift and I thought to myself it’s a healthy response to COVID-19…” she said.
The face masks are made from patterned cotton or polyester cotton. The fabric is first washed, dried, then cut nine by six and a half inches. The cut fabric is then pleated, ironed and elastic bands put on.
Sr Sandra stressed that fabric is washed and ironed twice before being sanitised with Lysol spray. She explained, “if you take your clothes out of the dryer, it’s wrinkled so you must smoothen it [the fabric] in order to get it flat to work with.”
The finished face masks are then placed in clear plastic with a prayer card inserted. Sr Kathleen Joseph OP came up with the idea of the prayer card, which reads: “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” —St Augustine.
On average, one face mask takes an hour to be sewn, Sr Sandra said.
Commenting to how other Dominican Sisters have been responding to this pandemic, Sr Sandra said that she has been in touch with her Sisters in France via WhatsApp. The Sister there she said, are all over the age of 65, “So they can’t respond,” she said.
She has also communicated with other Dominican Sisters in America, Spain and Poland.
The Sisters in Poland, Sr Sandra said are not talking about fear as much as they are speaking about trusting in God and prayer.
Responding to this pandemic positively is the divine call of the Dominican Sisters, she stressed.
“It’s very easy for us to frustrate ourselves and take all these beautiful vows and have such a joyful celebration in front of a congregation and an audience who loves and accepts us, but now I think it is distinctly important that this is really where we ought to be and this is really what we ought to do.”
She continued, “This is the test of our vows as religious sisters. And I think with lives at risk, we have to be brisk and respond. We have to make that distinction now and bring our vows into practice. I needed to be intentional and purposeful in my response to my vows. And I took my vows 25 years ago,” Sr Sandra said.
Feedback thus far, has been “very positive” she said. “For me, it’s joy,” Sr Sandra told Catholic News.
For now, she said, persons requesting face masks via WhatsApp are “quite surprised” when it’s free, because everything has been “hiked up” and it’s all about making money, she said.
Sister believes that we are living in a time of transition. No-one, she said, will be the same after this experience.
“My thing is, how do I effect this transition? And the Dominican Sisters are helping to effect that transition where people have to move away from hoarding masks and hiding behind masks. We have to be open and free and be able to face our brothers and sisters…. We all are in the same boat…” she said.
Sr Sandra assured that she will be sewing face masks as long as there is need. Persons interested in collecting face masks can contact Sr Sandra at 771-1300 to make arrangements.