First Communicant says ‘yes’ to her grandmother’s 1965 dress

Photo Caption: Gabriella Knisley wears the First Communion dress that was worn by her grandmother, Pamela Brink (left) in 1965 and was modernized by seamstress Marsha Krone, right.

By: By Tom Dermody

On April 25, Gabriella Knisley will receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time wearing a dress her grandmother wore for her First Communion 50 years ago.

How the dress was found in a closet of Pamela Brink’s parents’ home in Tennessee and came to be updated for the ceremonies at the 10 a.m. Mass on April 25 at St. Jude Church in Peoria is a fascinating story that involves a winning bid at a school auction and the help of a talented seamstress.

But Brink realizes Saturday is about more than a pretty dress for her granddaughter, and that Gabriella — the daughter of Chris Knisley and Jena Knisley and one of more than 50 in the class — is receiving more than clothing from past generations.

“This is about passing on the faith,” the proud grandmother told The Catholic Post this week. “I know this day is here because of my great-grandmother, Josephine, who came over from Poland. Every day at the end of her life she had a rosary in her hand praying for her children.”

Now it is Brink’s turn, and she is sharing not only her dress with Gabriella, the oldest of her five grandchildren, but her faith as well.

“I told her that next to her day of baptism this is going to be the most important day of her life,” said Brink. “I always pray for extra graces for all my grandchildren, that they have a special love for the Eucharist and for the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

It was such forward-thinking with faith in mind that led Brink to bid on an unusual service offered at the St. Jude Gala fundraising auction for the school more than a year ago. Marsha Krone, a pre-school teacher at St. Jude School who taught home economics at Peoria Notre Dame for more than two decades, volunteered her sewing talents to make a First Communion dress for the highest bidder.

“It’s really hard to find someone to do custom sewing anymore,” said Krone, who began sewing “making Barbie doll clothes from old socks” and operates a business from her home. She has made other First Communion dresses from patterns or from the wedding dress once worn by the child’s mother.

Brink was the highest bidder at the auction. The challenge then was for Krone to modify the 1965-era dress found stored “neatly and carefully” in a closet in the home of Brink’s mother.

The dress had yellowed with age, but a trip to the dry cleaners was successful in solving that issue. Since it was no longer bright white, and not really ivory, another challenge was finding the right color of lace and trim for the update.

But all that was possible because the biggest hurdle in passing on a dress was a non-factor.

“It fit Gabriella perfectly,” said Krone. “Some families might like to use the same dress, but if it doesn’t fit it is easier to buy one. It is amazing that she’s the exact size” as her grandmother at that age.

To match current style and Gabriella’s personality, the dress was lengthened — a 6-inch hem was taken out and trim added to the bottom and to the waist. Additional pearls and sequins now grace the bodice.

“I had to hand sew the lace on with nylon invisible thread,” recalled Krone. “It’s about as fine as a piece of hair and clear. The fabric of the overskirt was too delicate to sew with the machine without having pull. So I would wait for a bright sunny day and sew in front of the window.”

Another link between the First Communions 50 years apart will be a lesson that Brink learned from a teaching Sister as she made her preparations at St. Ann’s Parish in Nashville, Illinois.

“The nun told us that every time we see the Eucharist raised, when the bells ring, to put our hand on our heart and say “My Lord and my God.” Brink said she does that still today.

When Gabriella made a personal banner for her First Communion, she put pearls in a circle around an image of Jesus to symbolize the host. Above it are the words “My Lord and my God.”

The special year and traditions continue for the family this summer. Another of Brink’s daughters is expecting a child, and the new baby will wear Grandma Brink’s old baptismal gown, which was found in the same closet with the First Communion dress, her wedding dress, and her mother’s wedding dress.

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