Adrian Dominican Sisters and Co-workers Sew Masks for Use at Dominican Life Center

April 6, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, protective equipment for healthcare workers is in high demand and in short supply. But at the Dominican Life Center (DLC) – the residence of retired Adrian Dominican Sisters –Nursing Co-workers are getting a supply of masks, thanks to the efforts of Sisters and Co-workers.

“The truth of the matter is, we can’t even get [the masks] from other sources,” said Lonnie Kison, Nurse Manager at the DLC. “There are other places that have a greater need than us.” Yet, she said, the masks are crucial for the protection of nurses and nurse’s aides who work with the Sisters.

Lonnie and Wendy Pooley, Nurse Manager, had already begun sewing masks, but Lonnie realized they would need at least 300 masks to provide two apiece for all three shifts of nursing, environmental services, and food service Co-workers. This allows each Co-worker to have one being laundered while the other is being used, she said. 

Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, standing, watches as Sister Jean Fitzgerald, OP, sews a mask for use by Nursing Co-workers at the Dominican Life Center.

To meet the demand, Lonnie sent an email to Sisters and Co-workers, inviting them to sew special masks using material she provides and a specific pattern for a mask with one end open, allowing a filter to be placed inside. While the pattern calls for elastic to fit over the ears of the wearer, Lonnie noted that elastic is also scarce. Participants are instead creating four ties for each mask out of folded material.

The project is giving experienced seamstresses the opportunity to use their skills for the greater good.

Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, an experienced seamstress and a resident of Weber Center at the Dominican Life Center, earlier received an email from another Sister about how to make the masks before she received Lonnie’s invitation. She and a team of Sisters at Weber Center have already made more than 225 masks. “For me personally, this was a delightful contribution,” she said.

Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP, sews a mask while Sister Racquel Rones, OP, presses another.

Sister Tarianne, DeYonker, Vocations Co-director who is staying home to stay safe, said she is glad the call to help went out. “It’s nice to have a project like this, and I love to sew.”

Sister Racquel Rones, OP, an Adrian Dominican Sister from the Philippines who is staying in Adrian with Sister Tarianne for several months, added that she’s glad to be productive and helpful. The Sisters work together on the labor-intensive project and have so far completed about 80 masks. Each takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete, given the complexity of making and adding the ties.

Sister Tarianne hopes that she – and the rest of the world – will learn more from the pandemic crisis than how to make masks, however. “I think we’re learning some things about life and we’ve got long enough for it to sink in,” she said. “I’m hopeful that it’ll make a difference on the other side of this event, whenever it comes.”

Debe Blohm, a Co-worker from the Finance Office, at her sewing machine.

Debe Blohm, a general accountant with the Finance Office, had already decided to make masks for her family before she received the email from Lonnie. “It’s straight stitching and not hard, but very labor-intensive,” she said. “Anybody who can sew a straight stitch can make a mask.” She has already made 12 and hopes to make 25 or 30 more for the DLC, where she worked for 16 years before transferring to the Finance Office.

Making the masks “gives me the feeling that I’m doing something,” she said. “It alleviates the feeling of helplessness.”

Katherine Dusseau, Manager of the Weber Shop, has been sewing for most of her life. When Sister Janet Doyle, OP, Director of Weber Retreat and Conference Center, invited her to participate in the mask-making project, Katherine said she was thrilled. “I was feeling the need to help in some way with our current situation with COVID-19,” she said. “My daughter is a hospice nurse and I had started making masks for her and her team. Now I’m happy to make some masks for our Co-workers.”

Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, left, and Joan Mehney, OP, try on the masks made by Sisters residing at Weber Retreat and Conference Center for use at the Dominican Life Center.

In the midst of a period of fear and uncertainty, Katherine said, “this project gives me a small sense of certainty in helping our Co-workers. I am so thankful for all that they are doing to care for the Sisters.”

Not all volunteers came to the project with sewing experience. Lisa Schell, Congregation Archivist, first thought of making masks when a friend of her sister’s told her that the hospital where she works needed more masks. Lisa took on the project, using the sewing machine belonging to her mother – an expert seamstress who died five years ago – and taking a lesson in sewing from a neighbor. She made her first mask and, after receiving the email from Lonnie, used the pattern and material from Lonnie to make masks for the DLC. “Everything kind of fell into place,” she said.

When she began staying at home in March, Lisa said she struggled with the best way to help during the COVID-19 situation. “For me this feels like the best way that I can contribute because I want to help the Sisters,” she said. The benefits are two-fold, she said. “It’s a way to support the Sisters and the nurses and to honor the memory of my mom. I do think this is something she would have done.”