Bowed heads, low murmurs — it’s almost like you’ve stumbled into a prayer group.
Well, most of the time.
The women of St. Rita’s Circle at St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City do have their fun moments, and when they do, it eases the stiff fingers and tired eyes.
They are the quilters. And this year in December, they will celebrate their 100th anniversary.
A hundred years is a long time, but quilting has been around for centuries. The oldest known example is in St. Petersburg at the Russian Academy of Sciences — a quilted linen carpet found in a Mongolian cave.
In a museum in Florence, Italy, there are pieces of a quilted decorative covering which was found in Sicily and believed to have been made about 1360.
Back to Jefferson City: In the archives of St. Peter Parish, I found a fragile yellowed sheet of paper stating:
Rules of St. Rita’s Circle — Organized Dec. 28, 1922
1.) Meeting every two weeks.
2.) Each member to pay 10 cents every two weeks whether they come to meeting or not.
3.) If a member is sick, a Mass is offered instead of flowers.
4.) Masses for a member of St. Rita’s Circle at death offered by circle.
5.) 1 Mass offered by St. Rita’s Circle if a husband, father, mother, child, sister, brother, and father and mother-in-law die. (relative of a member of St. Rita’s Circle).
Monsignor Joseph Selinger, who was pastor of St. Peter Parish from 1904-34, was present at the organization meeting of the Circle, and the name St. Rita’s Circle was suggested by him.
In this organizational document forming St. Rita’s Circle, there is no mention of what activities the members would engage in or what the 10 cents was to be used for, but the “1st Report of St. Rita’s Sewing Circle, dated Jan. 1, 1926 — 70 meetings” showed that the total receipts were $503.15 and disbursements were $485.51, including items labeled “Plants,” “Sister Ann,” “School Fund,” “Milk Fund,” and one that puzzled me, “Mdse. & Vanilla.”
That same report stated that “4 pr pillow cases, 19 towels, 36 aprons, 4 dresser scarfs, 2 children’s dresses and bloomers, 1 clothespin bag, 1 sofa pillow, and 1 table cover” were donated to “bazaars and socials.”
In 1926, boys and girls under the age of 2 wore dresses and bloomers — it was a lot easier to change a diaper that way. What a busy group!
But, vanilla? I found out that the Circle would buy vanilla and other items from a wholesaler, resell them at retail, then donate the proceeds to the Church.
So, in the early days, quilting was not the only activity of the St. Rita’s Circle. They did a wide range of sewing of all kinds, and became entrepreneurs in retailing.
A time to sew
An article by Estelle Lammers in the June 15, 1973, edition of The Catholic Missourian, pointed out that in the past, St. Rita’s Circle charged “$3 for quilting an entire quilt.”
The price, however, had gone up by 1973: “$15 to $25” per quilt and extra charges for marking and binding.
The circle averaged “one quilt per month.”
Today, the price for quilting a quilt is $1 per hour per quilter. Each quilter writes down the number of hours she works, and the bill is based on those quilter hours.
What do the quilters of St. Rita’s Circle do with all that money? Although the “Rules” of the club do not specify how the proceeds are to be spent, over the years their earnings have gone toward a wide variety of causes.
Among these the needs of the priests, other parishes, schools, orphans, families and the St. Mary’s Hospital Auxiliary.
In recent years, though, the money earned is given to the pastor of St. Peter Parish to be used where he sees a need.
For many years in the recent past, St. Rita’s Circle met once a week, from early morning until mid- or late afternoon.
Each person would bring things for lunch, and it was as much a social outing as it was a fundraiser.
Monsignor Joseph Vogelweid PA, who led the parish from 1934-69, often visited to have lunch with the ladies — he loved their pies!
Today, the ladies of St. Rita’s Circle almost exclusively work on quilting. They meet in the Quilt Room (also known as the Scout Room), but because of parking limitations and other activities, they sew from about 3 p.m. until about 5 p.m.
Also, now, there is usually no snacking in order to protect the quilts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all activity in the Quilt (AKA Scout) Room was curtailed, and when they did get back to it, all the quilters wore masks at first and took extra precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
St. Rita’s Circle is now back in action and welcomes any and all who would like to join them.
More members needed
In today’s world, quilting is not high on most people’s list of activities. There is a serious need of volunteers to continue creating the quilts that are indeed works of art.
St. Rita’s Circle welcomes everyone.
If you have little or no experience with a needle, they will help you learn. If you have a few hours during the week which you would like to fill with something worthwhile, give them a call.
Besides St. Rita’s Circle, there are two other quilting groups at St. Peter Parish: St. Ann’s and the Sew-N-Sews.
For more information, contact:
Congratulations to the quilters of St. Rita’s Circle in this, their 100th year, and we wish you many more productive and fulfilling years.