Parish 'Mercy Sews' donations arrive in Africa

BRAINTREE -- After sewing 270 dresses last year, the Mercy Sews ministry of the Holy Mothers Collaborative in Hanover and Norwell packed them up and shipped them to Africa on a cargo ship.

After spending months traveling on the open waters and then weeks moving through the African continent, this month the dresses finally reached their intended recipients -- children in the Central African Republic.

"The need is great in Africa and there are so many children that need things to wear, and this is just a small token of connection," Clare Noonan, a founder of the ministry, said to The Pilot Jan. 13.

Formed in part to respond to the Jubilee Year of Mercy's call to action, the ministry chose to make dresses for children in the Central African Republic in large part due to a special connection the collaborative has with a bishop of the country, Bishop Dennis Kofi Agbenyadzi of the Diocese of Berberati.

Prior to being named a bishop, Bishop Agbenyadzi had served as a priest of the Society of African Missions, and his assignment brought him St. Mary of the Sacred Heart Parish in Hanover. That parish would later join St. Helen Mother of the Emperor Constantine Parish in Norwell to make up the Holy Mothers Collaborative.

The bishop blessed the dresses, as well as 233 t-shirts the ministry purchased, at St. Mary's in September, and he personally distributed the clothing months this month after it arrived in the Central African Republic.

According to Noonan, he brought the clothing first the historically marginalized pygmy communities earlier this month, and sent her images of some of the children wearing their new clothes.

Those images brought her to tears.

"It's an amazing thing to have something in your own house, to sew a simple dress... then to see it on the back of a child to Africa -- It's an amazing sense of connection with these children," Noonan said.

"I think a simple act of mercy can go much further than you think," she continued.

If all goes according the plan, Noonan said the Mercy Sews ministry will send more dresses later this year, and has hopes to expand the ministry to other parishes.

"Some of the women have actually already been sewing over the winter," she said.

"We're going to have meetings, and we'll have workshops to cut fabric, and we're really looking forward to the year."