On a mission: Albany group helps clothe kids in Congo

The ladies of the St. Peregrine mission group of Seven Dolors Parish in Albany have gathered monthly for the past 12 years to make quilts. But recently they embarked on a different mission, one they are very excited about.

The group met April 12 at the Albany Community Center, but rather than quilting, they put their sewing skills to work making clothes for young children in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Using fabrics that members had on hand, they set out to make as many dresses for girls and shorts for boys as they could in a day.

The 12 women divided the work into stations — some women cutting, some pinning, some sewing. Using everything from dainty floral prints to wild paisleys, they created outfits any little girl or boy would be proud to wear, especially one who never had new clothes before.

Group member Jean Enneking learned of the struggles of the people in Congo, especially the children, three years ago when she attended a talk by Crosier Father Zawadi Jean-Marie in Paynesville.

“The poverty in Congo is what got to my heart,” she said.

Crosier Father Zawadi Jean-Marie, center, Geri Lenneman, left, and Jean Enneking look at dresses made by the St. Peregrine mission group at Albany Community Center April 12. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

She spoke with him after his talk and they became friends.

“You know how you just connect with some people,” she said. “He writes me the neatest little notes,” she said.

The two have been exchanging letters ever since.

Father Zawadi, a native of Congo, located in central Africa, was ordained in 2012 and came to the United States in 2014 to participate in a project the Crosiers have initiated to empower young priests from Africa and Indonesia in the areas of development and leadership, he said.

“That means learning to raise funds for our different projects throughout the world,” he continued.

He lived with the Crosiers in Phoenix while he attended Arizona State University to learn English. Since then he has given occasional talks and does “mission preaching,” in parishes, he said. He has been living with the Crosiers in Onamia for the past year.

“We want to be home, we want to go home, but we have also to respond to the need of the church. So then, wherever the church needs us, we go,” he said.

Father Zawadi joined the mission group for lunch during their marathon sewing day. He talked about the needs in his home diocese — clothing and education for the children and feminine hygiene items for girls to allow them to stay in school. He also told them of his dream to build a K-12 school for 1,600 children who are not able to attend school now in the Diocese of Butembo Beni.

“I want people to know my dream of building this school so we can stop the cycle of poverty,” he said. “When we give good education to kids, they can be successful. We have many kids who are not going to school.”

There is also a need for scholarships for high school and university-age students and a need for electricity for the local hospital, he said.

Enneking has traveled and lived in other parts of the world and prays daily for people in war-torn countries, she said. Fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and militias continues in Congo, according to recent reports by Catholic News Service.

Enneking thinks about children she has seen in other parts of the world, “and I can just envision the little children getting these dresses,” she said.

“It makes you feel so good, it’s a way to use our talents and all the fabric we have to help,” said group founder Geri Lenneman. “I like to sew other things besides quilts, too.”

There’s no shortage of fabrics for the group, as friends and family know they quilt and often donate extra fabric to them, Lenneman said.

Many of the 30 dresses and eight pairs of shorts they finished that day were made with fabrics Enneking inherited from a cousin who recently died. She would be happy to see what is being done with her fabrics, Enneking said.
The clothes will be shipped via FedEx to the Diocese of Butembo Beni.

“When they arrive in Congo, so it will arrive to our mission, and then from the mission, the pastor and his council — they know the needs of the people,” Father Zawadi said.

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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