Caring in Action: Franciscan sister living her vows by making masks
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to strike the Chicago area in March, a Batavia woman found herself stuck at home, deemed vulnerable to the virus as a 61-year-old with asthma and diabetes.
But she continues to lead a life of service to others.
Sister Trish Villareal, a provincial councilor of the Wheaton Franciscans Catholic community, has led an effort to make more than 1,200 cloth masks donated to nursing homes, assisted living centers and facilities housing disabled people.
"I wanted to go out and do things, but I can't," Villareal said.
Needle and thread
She turned from making quilts to making masks, with the help of a fellow quilter and the greater community.
"I put out a call for used sheets on the Batavia Buy Nothing (Facebook group)," Villareal said. "I got a wonderful response for sheets from people."
The sheets are used as an inner layer. The outer layers are made of fabric she usually would use for quilts.
No one wanted to sew, she said, but many offered to cut fabric. She made patterns and sent them out. Students from St. People from throughout the Western suburbs have been cutting, including students from St. Francis High School in Wheaton.
A quilting friend and a fellow Franciscan sister have started helping with the sewing. Another volunteer picks the masks up from her front porch and delivers them.
Villareal's masks feature cloth ties, not elastic, because the recipient agencies were concerned about the ability to thoroughly clean the elastic when the masks are washed. But the frugal Villareal makes sure nothing goes to waste: If someone donates a fitted sheet to the cause, she cuts out the elastic and donates it to people making masks with elastic earloops.
Service is a way of life for Villareal, who took her vows 26 years ago. Before that, she was a "covenant companion," as a layperson, for 20 years.
"One of our charisms (a spiritual gift from God) is 'To meet the needs of that time,'" Villareal said. "I wanted to offer to go shopping (but couldn't). Sewing was the one thing I could offer."
When asked how people could help her effort, Villareal said she has enough supplies and volunteers for now. What people could do is pray for the recipients, she said.
"I pray into each mask that I make," Villareal said.
She said she doesn't know how much longer she will make masks; it depends on the need. When it ends, she will return to making memory quilts, donated to mourners or others experiencing loss. The quilts are based on photos of the loved ones.
The mask-making has been a blessing in another way. Villareal said many of the fabric-cutters are senior citizens, also stuck at home.
"They were so grateful to have a way to contribute," she said.