Parish’s outreach includes sewing baptismal garments

By Amanda Lauer | For the Compass | February 19, 2020

Appleton volunteers sew 290 gowns that will be used for infant baptisms

APPLETON — The sacrament of baptism is one way parishes welcome new members into the church. At St. Pius X Parish, a group of volunteers take the welcoming of infants one step further: They sew the garments worn for their baptisms.

Linda Cherrier sews the outer seams on a baptismal gown made at St. Pius X Church Feb. 12. The event produced 290 gowns that will be used by parish families for future infant baptisms. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

For more than 20 years, a group of parish women has gathered to create the white garments that are given to families for their babies.

Mary Leitermann coordinates this effort, along with fellow parishioner Gail Heyrman, who is in charge of baptism preparation at St. Pius X.

“Del Kaiser was always in charge of (sewing the baptismal garments) and when she wanted to step aside, Gail and I took over,” said Leitermann. “I know how to sew. Gail knows how to coordinate things. The first three times or so, we made 150 each time but we had to do it every other year.”

The last time the group got together was in 2015, when about two dozen women made 275 gowns. This year the group sewed 290, which they estimate will last them until 2025. The parish had 43 infant baptisms from July 2018 to June 2019, according to the parish.

Leitermann explained the process of making the baptismal gowns.

“I buy a cotton polyester blend at a local fabric store,” she said. “I bought 75 yards, which was three bolts. At home I figured out how many garments I could get out of a workable piece of fabric.” By cutting the fabric into 1 ¾-yard pieces, Leitermann said they are able to make six gowns.

The women met on Feb. 12 in the Holy Family Hall at St. Pius X and worked from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Each gown is made from one piece of fabric

that is cut in a way that it can be slipped over a baby’s head during the baptism ceremony. It took 90 minutes to cut out 290 garments.

“After the fabric is cut, we sew all around the edges,” said Leitermann. “I have a template for the symbol (the red Chi-Rho symbol, the first two letters in the Greek word “Christos,” a monogram for “Christ), so the ladies take them home and embroider the symbol on them. Then there’s a decorative gold stitch that a few people with that stitch on their sewing machines sew at home.”

Before the garments are sent home for the finishing touches, each one is ironed. “My granddaughter, Olivia Verstegen, is my presser. She likes to iron,” said Leitermann.

Verstegen, 9, was part of three generations working on the garments Feb. 12. Her sister, Hannah, 13, and her mom, Katie Verstegen, were volunteering as well. “I ironed like 22 gowns,” said Olivia, who also irons the altar cloths at St. Pius X when they are changed out after each liturgical season. “I like my church and I like to help the church,” said Olivia. “I also decorate the window in the front of the church with my grandma.”

It takes a lot of coordination to pull the garment-making event off, said Heyrman, adding that it’s a worthwhile endeavor. It’s an opportunity for parishioners to work together and meet new people “because there are always people you haven’t met. It’s good to see some younger ones helping here, too. All you have to do to get involved is to be able to cut a straight line.”

“Not every family can afford to have a white gown,” added Heyrman, so the gowns become a keepsake for many families. “Part of baptism is the symbols — the candle, the oil, the water and the white gown.

“These gowns take a lot of hands to create,” said Leitermann. “It’s nice because we have a group of women now, it’s a group project and we’re going to get these done.”

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