Champaign girl will be 15th family member in First Communion dress tradition

Rose Ruedi adjusts the veil of the First Communion dress modeled by her granddaughter Anna Vasey. Anna will become the 15th member of the family to wear the dress when she makes her First Communion on April 16 at St. Matthew Church in Champaign. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

CHAMPAIGN — When they bought a First Communion dress for their granddaughter in 1962, Leopold and Rose Salato probably had no idea that it would be used more than once. It became a cherished family heirloom, however, and next weekend will be worn for the 15th time.

That honor goes to their great-great-granddaughter, Anna Vasey, who will make her First Communion on Saturday, April 16, at St. Matthew Church. The 7-year-old is one of 73 parish children who will celebrate the sacrament that day.

Rose was the second person to wear the dress at her First Communion in October 1966. (Provided photo)

Rose was the second person to wear the dress at her First Communion in October 1966. (Provided photo)

Anna wouldn’t have it any other way. Even when offered the possibility of buying a new dress she said “No.”

“Everyone else has worn it,” she told The Catholic Post, while modeling the dress in the living room of her grandparents Rose and David Ruedi. “My favorite part is the veil. It’s kind of like a headband, except for longer.”

“See how her grandmother lights up just seeing her in it,” David Ruedi said.

“I do. Everybody just feels so good in it,” Rose Ruedi said.

She noted that her grandparents bought the dress for her sister, Patricia, because she was their first granddaughter and they wanted to do something special. No one remembers the name of the store it came from, just that “it was a nice department store.”

The dress passed to Rose for her First Communion in October 1966 and to her younger sister, Adelyn, in May 1971. Then it was packed away in her mother’s hope chest until it was needed for the next generation — and the next.

“She washes it by hand,” Rose said of her mother, Mary Lou Salato, now 86 and living in Wheaton. “The last few years we’ve left it in a hanging bag in the closet. After Anna she’ll take it back and wash it by hand and then she’ll probably put it back in her hope chest.”


Many children around the Diocese of Peoria are making their First Communion this spring. Whether their dresses and suits are brand new or family heirlooms, they are invited to don them again and celebrate with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at the annual Mass for First Communicants, which is planned for Saturday, June 11, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. It will begin at 4 p.m.

Anna is the last one who will wear it — at least for now.

“When you look at it now you think it’s white. But when you see it with the girls and their brand new dresses you can see it’s more of an ivory,” Rose said. “But it hasn’t deteriorated. We enjoy it.”

Amazingly enough, the dress has fit every member of the family who has worn it.

“We either tie it tight or leave it looser. It just always works,” Rose said.

She attributes the care of the dress — and the tradition — to her Italian heritage, saying, “Traditions really mean a lot to me. There are certain things you just do.”

As she anticipates Anna’s First Communion, Rose said she feels “honored and blessed.”

“I’m just so happy it has lasted this long and that they want to wear it,” she said. “They’re proud and excited and they wait for their turn.”


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