Quilting With Heart
She is surrounded by squares of recycled fabric, and rows of handmade quilts in various colors and patterns are folded over hangers nearby, ready for a new home.
Tucked behind her sewing machine, Sister Frances Meyer spends her days tailoring quilts and other knit goods with an abundance of love. The 89-year-old is as generous as she is creative and has been donating her quilts to those in need for the last 10 years.
"Mending clothes for the Sisters comes first," says Sister Frances. "Making quilts and knitting things like baby booties and mittens is my hobby, which comes second."
Quilts for babies. Quilts for pets. Quilts for the sick. Quilts of all sizes. Checkered quilts, floral quilts and boldly colored quilts. Each creation is unlike the one before it.
A native of Germany, Sister Frances came to America in 1951. She is a retired nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (SSM) and now lives at the SSM Franciscan Courts in Oshkosh where she has resided since 1989.
"The Sisters taught me quilting and it takes me about three hours to complete one now. If anyone ever needs anything, they know to come to me," she jokes. Sister Frances first began quilting a decade ago when Father Chris Steinle, an Augustinian priest who worked in Peru, told her they were in need of money to build a bridge so the people of the area wouldn’t have to walk through a stream to get to church. So, Sister Frances decided to sell her quilts in Oshkosh to raise funds. "I always wanted to hold a sale in this area," she explains. "And now we are part of a Christmas sale every year where the community can purchase quilts, mittens, washcloths, booties and hats all made from donated fabric from the community."
The sale she references is an annual craft fair held in November at St. Raphael Church in Oshkosh. Sister Frances estimates that she has made an impressive 500 quilts since she took up the hobby.
Her favorite part of the pastime?
"Apart from the act of giving the quilts, I love how relaxed I feel when I make them," she says.
Before she retired, Sister Frances was a first-grade teacher in Milwaukee and then the Sisters’ coordinator at the home in Oshkosh. She helped look after the finances and assisted with care-taking in the infirmary where there is 24-hour nursing.
In 1891, the Sisters took action and opened Oshkosh’s first hospital. In 1899, four Franciscan Sisters opened St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. The Sisters had been at it for well over a century when in 1995 Mercy Medical Center joined Affinity Health System, along with St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Guided by a mission and vision to clearly portray the Christ-centered direction of the organization, Affinity strives to live out the ministry of Christ through services that nurture the health and well-being of communities, particularly the poor.
Sister Frances continues to live that mission in her quilting.
"My favorite and most popular quilts to make are out of the habits of Sisters who have passed away," she says. "It is a great way to remember them. I’ve given the habit quilts to those who aren’t well, and they cozied up with them and got well again."
She donates many of her quilts to the Day by Day Warming Shelter and Father Carr’s Place 2B, both in Oshkosh.
"I make colors work together and find different patterns to combine," she explains. "Working with the fabric that is donated is part of the challenge and part of the fun."
With a generous spirit like Sister Frances’, retirement doesn’t mean sitting idly by. Her busy hands continue to fill the needs and hearts of those around her.
Sister Frances’ quilts can be found in the gift shop at the Franciscan Courts in Oshkosh, along with large wall hangings and other goods crafted by various Sisters.
Published October 2014