St. Michael Parish angel gown ministry brings comfort to families who have lost a baby

By Renae Kranz

When a family loses a baby, whether by miscarriage, still birth or shortly after birth, they often feel like they’re alone in a suddenly dark world.

A mother will wonder if she did something wrong. A father will worry about his wife. Both will feel a deep emptiness for the loss of a future and the child they’ll never get back and never get to know in this life.

To add to the pain they feel, this is something few people talk about with each other. Most people don’t know what to say and the family really doesn’t know what happens next.

What the family is really looking for in these moments is a caring word, an understanding ear and someone to tell them what their options are for the baby they hoped for and still love more than they even know yet. They search for comfort and a way to honor their child.

A new ministry at St. Michael Parish in Sioux Falls offers a beautiful way for parents who’ve lost a baby to make the last moments they have with their child a lasting memory of love. This ministry creates what they’ve come to call “angel gowns” to give these precious children a final outfit worthy of a child of God.

A new ministry arises

Bev Dickes had a thriving business as a seamstress specializing in bridal in Sioux Center, Iowa. At times women would donate their wedding dresses to her and ask her to make an angel gown from it. In the back of her mind, this was something she wanted to do more often, but time was in short supply with her busy life.

When her husband retired from his work in education, they moved to Sioux Falls. Bev moved her business as well and found herself as busy as ever. They became parishioners at St. Michael Parish, but Bev felt lost in such a big church since they had come from a small parish in Iowa they had helped start. It was a feeling she didn’t expect and began looking for a way to remedy that feeling and find a purpose in her new parish.

A solution soon arose when Bev was starting to get requests for angel gowns in her new city. While she was visiting with a lady about an angel gown, she suddenly understood the key to making this idea finally happen.

“I’m a firm believer that the Holy Spirit guides you in a certain direction,” Bev said. “And when I was visiting with this lady, all of a sudden, it just dawned on me that I don’t need to do this all on my own.”

She knew then she needed to find other people at St. Michael who might want to help her, but she didn’t know how to find them. She turned to Jane Derrington at her parish for advice and direction. From there, the two women put together a group of now about 20 others who are helping to create these angel gowns for families who need them.

Many jobs, one mission

As Bev and Jane got the group going, they realized they needed more than just seamstresses. The process of creating an angel gown from a donated dress involves several steps and the more help they had, the more gowns they could make.

Before COVID hit, the group would meet and each volunteer would dive in with a task. Each dress donated is documented, photographed and numbered because some brides who donate dresses want to see the angel gowns made from their wedding gowns. Then the entire dress is taken apart and the embellishments are removed.

Next, the fabric is cut into four different sizes for the babies who will wear them: micro, tiny, preemie and newborn. Seamstresses then sew the gown which is open in the back and ties closed so they’re easy to put on. From there, embellishments are added and a vest and bowtie are added to the gowns for baby boys.

“I’m so tickled when I see these dresses come back, and I see the creativity that these women are putting into them and the ideas they have because they’re all embellished differently,” Bev said.

Some of the volunteers make organza drawstring bags to put the gowns in for delivery. Bev says it’s their hope that the bag can be used later by the family to keep cards or other memories of their baby.

The final piece of the puzzle is a pretty card created by one of the volunteers to comfort the family receiving the gown. It has a Bible verse on one side and condolences from the St. Michael Angel Gown ministry on the other side.

Bev finds herself acting as the organizer along with others for the group. There are also several volunteers who work on outreach and finding places who would like to have angel gowns on hand.

When COVID changed how they could gather, the group began meeting at the church parking lot to swap materials and continue making the gowns in their homes. They now have a good supply of angel gowns for anyone who needs one.

A heartfelt gift

Although Bev has not experienced the loss of a baby herself, it was important to her that these families have a lasting memory of their child.

“This might be the last time they see this baby,” Bev said. “They see the baby in this gown and we would like that to be a very positive, beautiful thing that they remember from their child. It is truly amazing when people come forward and tell you what the experience of losing a child is like. It’s a blessing to hear their stories.”

One family in Sioux Falls recently received an angel gown and was surprised something like that was available. Twila Roman’s daughter had just lost one of her twins shortly before they were to be born. She said she was reminded of our connection as a Catholic community and that others were praying them through a difficult time.

“As it sunk in and seeing the gown, the magnitude of devotion to the project became very evident,” Twila said. “The care with which it was obviously made really hit our hearts, knowing that someone made this exactly for this purpose. What a tangible aspect of our Catholic faith and community to know there is abundant love and care to create something so meaningful during a very difficult time.”

Jane has had the privilege of giving a few gowns to families in the last few months. It’s been a moving experience for her.

“The limited number of families we have touched have received the gown with tears of appreciation in the midst of the sadness and loss,” Jane said. “They felt that God would be wrapping his hands around their little one.”

Angel gowns available

The ministry now has enough gowns on hand for anyone who needs them and more are being made. If you or your family would like a gown for a beloved child, or if you are a parish and would like to have a few gowns on hand, you can contact either Bev at 712-441-3220 or Jane at 715-781-0882.

If you’d like to volunteer, more hands are always welcome.