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Heavenly gowns dress babies for God

Mary Madeline Project volunteers (from left) Mary Daly, Georgine Suchy and Betty Rowland examine some of the infant burial gowns the Project donates to area hospitals. Photo by Brian Fuchser

By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice

Finding personal healing while providing healing for others … that's the ministry of the Mary Madeline Project.

The volunteer-based project provides burial gowns and blankets, made from donated wedding dresses, to parents who have experienced the death of a baby.

Carlin Kammerer, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Omaha, founded the Mary Madeline Project in September 2003.

"I wanted to do something to memorialize all the babies," said Kammerer, who lost a baby of her own. "I wanted to provide comfort and support to the parents, and dress the babies for God."

The project is named in honor of Kammerer's granddaughter Madeline, who died at seven weeks of age, and in honor of the mother of Jesus, who Kammerer pointed out is "the mother to all of us."

The Mary in Mary Madeline also stands for Many Angels Reaching You.

"All the volunteers are the angels," Kammerer said. "Without these volunteers, there wouldn't be a Mary Madeline Project."

Alice Vananne, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, said the project is "a wonderful way of connecting" to lost children.

"They're with us," she said. "We're all part of the Body of Christ. They're just in a different place. I think there's much more of an awareness now to validate that they're a part of the family."

Comfort found

Vananne said she has found comfort through her efforts as the head of volunteers in Elkhorn who meet each month to pray and sew.

"How do I explain this in a way that doesn't sound morbid? It's a spiritual thing," she said. "It's very uplifting, like a loaves and fishes thing. Anytime you give freely it just brings such happiness."

While almost all the volunteers have lost babies, volunteering is not just for people who have faced that tragedy. Some have lost siblings or adult children.

The project provides opportunities for others to heal as well. Donors of wedding dresses can have the names of loved ones put on a memorial tag that is sewn into the burial gowns.

Kammerer told about one woman who lost her daughter and was only able to move forward in the grieving process when she donated her daughter's wedding dress.

Each wedding dress that is donated can be made into about 10 to 12 burial gowns, depending on the sizes of the gowns and wedding dress.

Volunteers sometimes make hats, pillows and stuffed animals to go along with the burial gowns and blankets.

Covering all the hospitals in Omaha and Council Bluffs, the project started with intensive care units, and has expanded to include labor/delivery units. With more than 300 stillbirths in the Omaha area each year, demand is high for the project's services.

"It's hard for the parents to go out and shop when they've lost a baby," Kammerer said.

It also is difficult to find burial gowns in the proper sizes, especially for pre-mature babies, she said. But providing enough burial gowns is not the project's biggest worry.

"Right now we really have a need for more blankets," Kammerer said. "I hope some high school groups will take this on as a project."

Project branching out

Volunteers are working in many communities of the archdiocese, including Albion, West Point, and Hartington.

Most of the volunteers work individually out of their homes, but Kammerer hopes that more organized groups, like the one in Elkhorn, get involved.

"My hope is to cover every family and every baby state-wide," she said.

Another goal is to provide wooden coffins along with the gowns and blankets. Money is needed for that and for administrative costs.

The project also has two other needs, doll models for sizing burial gowns and storage space for donated wedding dresses. Kammerer already has used all the spare room in her home.

People wishing to donate a wedding dress can call Kammerer at (402) 551-7574 or visit the Mary Madeline Project's web site at Donations may be sent to P.O. Box 6207, Omaha, NE 68106.

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