When Gaye Asbill was suffering with incurable multiple myeloma at home in Jacksonville, Fla., her friend of 40 years told her she’d send a prayer blanket.

“My frame of mind was extremely bad,” Asbill recalls. “I dismissed it.”

Her outlook changed when the blanket arrived 10 days later.

“I put my hand on this blanket to pull it out of the bag and it stayed warm on my lap,” says Asbill. “This feeling of peace and tranquility and well-being settled over me. I immediately started to respond to the treatment.

“Every day since, I’ve had that blanket on my body. The minute I put it on, I know the prayers are still there and in constant action.”

And how. Asbill healed enough to start a prayer-blanket ministry at her parish in February 2006. Already Blessed Trinity Catholic Church has made nearly 1,000 blankets to comfort the sick, bring peace and promote healings.

They’re not just for physical illness, Asbill points out. Blankets go to the depressed, stressed, anxious, grieving, to military personnel in harm’s way overseas, to nursing homes, to moms experiencing a high risk pregnancy or miscarriage, to babies with difficulties.

The story is the same everywhere this corporal work of mercy has been organized: Blessings come to those who receive prayer blankets — and those who make them.

“God has used this ministry to touch the lives of countless people who have received our blankets during very difficult times in their lives,” says Sharon Fisher at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Houston, where the prayer-blanket ministry originated back in January 1998. Since then this church has made and distributed very close to 30,000 blankets.

From here the prayer blanket ministry spread, as blankets from Prince of Peace were sent to 37 states, 20 countries and seven continents, according to Fisher, the chairwoman of this ministry. In each, the work has multiplied many times over.

One way it spreads is via patients from far and wide receiving a prayer blanket at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Miriam Mellon got hers there, had a positive attitude going through her treatment, then started a prayer-blanket ministry in 2003 at her parish, St. Austin Church in Austin, Texas.

“God has been so good to me and blessed me,” reflects Mellon. “I got that little bit of cancer so I could spread this love and tangible expression to those who are suffering in one way or another.”

Blankets from here have resulted in similar ministries being formed in other Texas parishes.

The blankets that spread the love and prayers come with variations, depending on each parish ministries’ choices. Some make blankets stretching from toe to chin, some lap-sized. Some make different sizes for men, women, children and babies. Some use solid-colored material, others prints. There’s flannel, cotton and combinations.

Blessed Trinity Catholic Church has added a unique touch to their fleece and crocheted blankets. Asbill explains theirs include a pocket in which they pin a plastic envelope containing a healing prayer, a glow-in-the-dark rosary, directions on how to pray the Rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy, a picture of the church, an explanation of this ministry, and the names of the recipient and the person requesting the blanket.

Customs vary. Some blankets get blessed once a month at a weekday healing Mass, some at every weekend Mass where they’re placed next to the altar during the Mass.

San Sebastian’s Catholic Church in St. Augustine, Fla., which has made more than 200 blankets in less than a year, also places the blankets before the Blessed Sacrament at Eucharistic adoration for an entire day and asks adorers to pray for their intended recipients.

In addition, volunteers pray for recipients while making the blankets, whether it’s the 215 volunteers organized into 14 teams at Prince of Peace or the 70 women of the Catholic Daughters of America, Court St. Justin, based at St. Michael Catholic Church in Mahnomen, Minn. Theirs is a remarkable number since the town population is only 1,200.

“They make it a very prayerful time and atmosphere when they put these blankets together,” says St. Michael’s pastor, Father Richard Lambert, describing the work sessions with prayers and Christian music.

Of the many benefits for recipients, he says, “It means a lot to know people are praying for them. I see the comfort and the reassurance it provides people. They’re not alone in their suffering. Individuals say when they feel anxious and depressed they cover up in their prayer blanket. It’s a reminder the Lord is there with them and people are praying for them.”

Masses at St. Michael’s always include a prayer petition for those who have received a blanket.

Even if someone dies, there’s comfort. Penny Goldsmith, one of the Daughter’s Court volunteers, remembers what the prayer blanket meant to one couple who lost their little baby. They wrapped the baby in the prayer blanket, like “swaddling clothes,” in the casket.

At Prince of Peace, Fisher attests to the many letters of thanks when the group sent 300 blankets after Sept. 11 to firemen and police in New York City and to the Pentagon.

Healed and Sealed

Results can sometimes be dramatic. In Jacksonville, Roy Provost had been a professional umpire for 31 years. His two bypass surgeries and heart condition made him unable to have a knee replacement, leaving him living in agony for 15 years.

“The pain was so excruciating I would be in tears,” he says.

Despite his admitted skepticism, his wife Kathy got him a prayer blanket from Blessed Trinity and put it on him while he was watching TV. Provost describes what happened next.

“Almost immediately my left knee got red hot like it was on fire. It lasted about 15 minutes. From the minute that burning stopped I have never had another pain in that knee. I can kick it up in the air, walk on it. Coincidental? I think there was more to it than that.”

Now, he says, “I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer. You have physical evidence lying in your lap. It’s a comforting feeling with that blanket close by.”

Provost then started this ministry in Sacred Heart Church to help others. Goldsmith sums up a common result of prayer blanket ministry. “It’s become a very important part of people’s lives,” she says. “We can’t promise miracles, but we can almost guarantee you will have comfort and healing.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.