Eighty-seven-year old Mary Trauger asks nothing in return for the crocheted shawls she makes for virtually anyone in need of warmth and comfort in a time of need.
“Aunt Mary,” as she’s affectionately come to be known as by her friends and family, is a widow who lives alone in her ranch-style home in Willow Grove.
Physically and visually impaired, Trauger has been making “prayer shawls,” as she calls them, for almost 10 years, a labor of love that her church has come to recognize as an immeasurable service to the community.
Hers is a rare story of faith, love and labor from her living room, where she keeps her mind and her fingers active, knitting a Hail Mary into every stitch.
“My mother always said, you have to give of yourself,” said Trauger.
“I remember when I was a child – 7 or 8 years old, I used to have to go and thread needles for a lady down the street, and I would say to my mother, 'Why do I have to go? She has daughters.’ My mother would say, ‘Because I said so.’”
A daughter of Italian immigrants, Trauger learned to sew and crochet early on. Her mother taught her how to hand make her own doll clothes then, later for her nieces, mittens. Eventually she was making Christmas stockings for her grand-nieces and nephews and baby blankets for everyone in between and then afghans by the dozens.
Now, she’s devoted herself to making these prayer shawls – each one blessed by her parish priest and given to a person in need, regardless of their religious affiliation.
During a recent interview at Trauger’s home in Willow Grove, Metro asked to see the stacks of thank-you cards Trauger had received over the years.
The stack piled over a foot high, all hand-written and addressed to Trauger, as if drafted with the same love invested into every stitch of her needlework.
Imelda Kormos is a parishioner at St. David's Parish in Willow Grove and a friend of Trauger. She helped get the word out about the prayer shawls and connect Trauger with recipients. She did the math, and tallied that, to date, Trauger has made 321 prayer shawls.
“Over the years, when you’ve lost someone and you have that shawl…” she shook her head.
“Our deacon, this past Sunday, was talking about people giving of themselves,” she went on to say.
“He mathematically figured out that – as of last Sunday – she had made 318 shawls, [she’s since made three more]. At 45 hours it takes for her to make a shawl, that’s 14,310 hours, with praying 150 Hail Marys an hour, that’s 2.15 million Hail Marys that she has done for other people.”
Judith Shepherd, a teacher in Conestoga High School, said there was a comfort level in receiving one of these because it “gives you energy.”
“I was using it as I was recuperating from a number of surgeries this past year," she told Metro.
"I passed it on just this past week to a friend of mine who was dying and has subsequently died, but I think one of the things that is so remarkable about an effort such as this is that we can accept an act of kindness from strangers when we’re vulnerable. It’s so just unexpected,” she said.
Each prayer shawl is stitched with a tag, “Made with Tender Loving Care by Mary P. Trauger.”
“It’s a labor of love, and I love doing it,” Trauger smiled behind her glasses.