Daughter inspires pro-life pillow ministry
Grace Schaefer was 7 years old in 2012, on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, when she told her mother, "I don’t understand why anybody would do this to a precious baby. Those babies may be small, but they are people, too."
The Schaefers were attending a Holy Hour for Life at an Omaha church.
The pro-life cause has always been important to the family – Grace’s mother, Nikki Schaefer, was a former counselor at the expectant parenting unit of Catholic Services in St. Louis before moving with her husband, Bernie, and their family to the Omaha area in 2006.
Some mommies are just scared, Schaefer told her daughter. Maybe they worry they won’t have enough money for diapers or to take care of their babies.
As they left the church, Grace suggested a way to help: A pillow, with a cross sewn on it and a baby at the center of the cross, "because those babies suffer like Jesus suffered on the cross."
The baby would have a heart with rays of light coming from it, Grace said. Each cross would have a pocket with a rosary in it. The Schaefers would make them and sell them, and give the money to the mommies.
For Schaefer, Grace’s idea seemed like the answer to a prayer.
During that same holy hour, "I had felt a very strong presence of Our Lady and had a knowing in my heart that I was supposed to do something again for the pro-life cause," Schaefer said. She knew she had to follow up on her daughter’s idea.
The Schaefers, who attend both St. James Parish in Omaha and St. Francis Borgia Parish in Blair, unveiled their first pillows that summer at a Nebraskans United for Life garage sale at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Omaha, where seamstress Mitzi Le Clair came up to their booth and offered to help.
"It is a wonderful cause," said Le Clair, a member of St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament Parish in Omaha and one of several seamstresses who work on the pillows.
And now the effort has a website, heartofachildministries.org. Priced at $40, the pillows have been sold across the country and the ministry has donated $16,000 to pro-life organizations such as Bethlehem House and Essential Pregnancy Services, both in Omaha. The pillows can be purchased through the website, as well as the Cosgrave Company, Gloria Deo and Bethlehem House’s Humble Lily secondhand boutique store, all in Omaha, and at the Pro-Sanctity Retreat Center near Elkhorn.
Schafer has spoken about the pro-life pillows at Catholic schools in the Omaha area and Grand Island, Neb.
"It’s powerful to kids because this comes from a child," she said.
As for Grace, now 11 and a sixth-grader schooled at home, she still works on the pillows, putting tags on them or placing rosaries in the pockets.
"I’m very glad that we’re doing this," she said.
While Heart of a Child Ministries has grown, the basic design suggested by Grace for the pro-life effort has remained important. Grace’s design has a heart, speaking to the gift of a child and how the child is a light to everyone.
"That heart goes directly back to the Scripture," Schaefer said. "When the disciples were shooing the children away, Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
"If we believe this is a spiritual battle on Earth, and Jesus said children have the keys to the kingdom, where is the attack going to be?"
As the ministry grew, other designs were added – Mary holding a baby, Mary holding a rose – and pillows with other themes were made, to honor people who are dying and babies lost to miscarriage or early death.
The ministry needs volunteers, Schaefer said, including booth workers and seamstresses. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.