Among the faithful who have found solace in St. Dominic Parish’s prayer blanket ministry is a man who was given a blanket in a hospital ICU, as preparations were being made to amputate his leg.
“The next day I got a phone call. The doctors told (the man), ‘I don’t know who you have praying for you, but there is blood flow to your leg!’” said the ministry’s lay leader, Debbie Landry, noting that the surgery was scrapped and the man’s limb saved just hours before the procedure.
“God could have done that without the prayer blanket – we all understand that – but maybe the blankets are just something tangible that people can focus on, an aid to help them pray,” Landry said. “I’m one of those people who have a hard time getting through a ‘Hail Mary’ without thinking about my grocery list,” she said. “It’s something you can hold onto and concentrate and not be so distracted.”
Landry, 58, a St. Dominic parishioner and a graduate of St. Frances Cabrini, Mount Carmel Academy and LSU’s School of Allied Health, began overseeing the special parish ministry with her husband Ron in 2007. Hurricane Katrina had prompted the couple to join St. Dominic’s Family Life Committee two years earlier, but Debbie Landry soon realized the frequent meetings didn’t suit her personality.
“I am not a committee person,” Landry said. “Katrina focused us into almost a 19th-century family and the goodness of people was so overwhelming, so I felt like I needed to continue to give back. The prayer blankets are something I can do from the privacy of my own home and still feel that I am doing my part.”
Prayer blankets made their way to St. Dominic in the early 2000s, after parishioners Charlene and Marlin Rovira learned of the prayer aid in a Memphis church, and Mik and Mary Hartenstein became the ministry’s first leaders.
Landry turns out 10 to 40 prayer blankets a month from her Lakeview home with the help of volunteers Missy Schwab, Brenda Connolly and Mary Moises. A “mystery seamstress” leaves two additional blankets on Landry’s doorstep each month.
Each 21-by-44-inch blanket is topped by a stitched cross made out of grosgrain ribbon, and includes a printed prayer – “Covered in Prayer: A Petition for Healing” – that the recipient can say privately or with others. Landry attempts to match each blanket’s fabric to the intended recipient: bright and cheery patterns for babies and children at Children’s Hospital; a pink ribbon pattern for breast cancer patients and survivors; floral motifs for senior ladies.
“And we make some manly ones for the men – for war vets we try to do red, white and blue,” Landry notes. “Some people carry them into surgery with them; some people carry them into hospice with them.”
Blankets are available to anyone, not just St. Dominic parishioners, and are shipped throughout the nation. Many recipients learn of them through word of mouth, and contact Landry by phone or email with their requests.
“Everybody needs prayer. Everybody,” Landry said. “You don’t need to be sick. People sleep on them. I’ve had people who have given them to pregnant moms to hold onto and place on their bellies as they proceeded through their pregnancies. I’ve had people call me from out of town on their way to Children’s Hospital and say, ‘I heard that you have a prayer blanket. Could I possibly get one?’”
Newly stitched blankets are placed over St. Dominic’s Communion rail before the first vigil Mass of the month, blessed by the celebrant, and prayed over by congregants during all weekend Masses. Landry then wraps each blanket in cellophane and places it in her mailbox for pickup.
“Sometimes I’ll go a week with no requests, and then I’ll get nine requests in one morning,” she said. “They find me.”
Landry’s bulging bag of thank-you notes attests to what the blankets have meant to recipients’ prayer lives. Landry still tears up when she reads the note from the mother of a developmentally delayed boy who broke his foot during one of his daily “drop seizures” and lost his will to walk.
“It had been 15 months since (my son) had walked when my grandmother gave us the ‘miracle blanket’ and told us of the many people within St. Dominic’s community praying for him,” the mother writes. “Within six days of receiving the blanket I got a phone call from his teacher at school telling me, actually screaming with excitement, that he had just picked himself up from the floor and walked across the classroom. … I truly believe in the power of prayer and the wonderful workings of the Holy Spirit among us.”
Landry foresees facilitating the ministry “forever” but insists she is just the messenger.
“It’s not like you’re going to get this prayer blanket and have a miracle happen; it’s something that is a comfort to people in a time of need that they can hold onto,” she said. “There are a lot of people that have received the blankets and died, but the response I always get back is, ‘but they were at such peace and it gave them the courage to let go.’ Or it gave them the courage to mend fences. They’re holding on to a piece of God and it brings them peace.”
“I just bring the blankets and let God do what he can do,” Landry adds. “We all need something to hold onto every day to get to the next power of where God is in our life. We need tangible.”
All are invited to help the ministry through the donation of materials, monetary support or as volunteer seamstresses. No cost or donation is required to receive a prayer blanket. Landry requests that all donated fabric be “soft, cuddly material that would be soothing” to the skin.
For more information, email email@example.com or call Landry at 488-6003.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.