Cambridge kindness benefits babies, parents at medical center

CAMBRIDGE — Mary Ann Blackert uses the term “church family” to describe her parish, St. John Vianney.

“We take care of each other,” she said.

That same tender loving care extends to people in need outside their community, too. Among those receiving special attention at this time of year are the babies in the neonatal unit at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria and their families.

For the last 15 years the women of St. John Vianney’s Altar and Rosary Society have used their gifts to offer comfort and support in the form of Christmas vests, quilts and bereavement gowns. It all started with a simple request from Blackert’s daughter, Faith Schmidt, who worked in the neonatal unit for 18 years.

“Some of those babies are so small. At that time, years ago, there was nothing for them to wear when they were going home,” Blackert recalled. “One year, at Christmastime, she said, ‘Mom, it would be nice for them to have something to wear.'”

Blackert shared that concern with the Altar and Rosary Society at St. John Vianney and it now forms the agenda of their September meeting each year. That’s when the group cuts out everything and then takes it home for assembly and finishing touches.

“They bring them back in time to get them down to the unit the first weekend in December,” she said, noting that she leaves them with her daughter-in-law Linda Blackert, who works with newborns at OSF Saint Francis.

They started with the Christmas vests and then thought, “If we can do the Christmas vests, let’s send along some quilts.” This year they added small blankets to their care package.

Blackert makes the bereavement gowns herself. This year she put a tiny cross on each one.

“The thought is that if they lose a child there, the mother can’t get out and buy something right away, so this is something they’ll have,” she said. “What do you do? It’s such a terrible, sad time to lose a child.”

Blackert praised the Altar and Rosary Society members for embracing the project the way they have. They know it brings smiles to the faces of parents going through a tough time.

“We just love to do it,” she said.

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