Program outfits kids with clothes for first Communion

A program providing new or gently used first Communion outfits for children whose families cannot afford them is having great success in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

This spring, the program, which is in its third year, has received more than 500 dresses, 250 suits, 125 veils and 20 pairs of shoes, said Lynn Gully, the associate director of development for the archdiocese, who spearheads the program. “We had not one piece left over here last year.”

The program began by chance when a local boutique called the archdiocese to ask if they would be able to accept several donated first Communion dresses. As Gully carried them into the chancery buildings, people inquired about them. The program grew from there. “I wasn’t surprised at the generosity of the people of Newark,” Gully said. “But I was taken aback by the need.” When one woman came to pick up a dress for her daughter, she “gave me a box of Girl Scout cookies because we gave her a dress. She was almost in tears.”

Free of worry

The Communion dresses and suits are donated by individuals or through parishes, Gully said. Twenty parishes participated this year; approximately 15 participated in 2015.

“To us, it doesn’t matter what your situation is,” added Kelly Marsicano, public relations specialist for the archdiocese. “This is a day of celebrating the Sacrament of first holy Communion. It’s a special day, and these kids will now get to enjoy that instead of worrying about what they are going to wear.”

St. Augustine Parish in Newark is one of the churches that received Communion outfits this year. A religious order of sisters based out of the church, the Missionaries of Charity, run the religious education program at the parish.

“Whenever there was someone who could not afford an outfit, the sisters would provide an outfit. But now that we know about this program, and actually I mentioned it at the meeting to the parents, more people raised their hands,” said Diana Pendas, director of religious education at St. Augustine. “The parents picked them up this past Sunday — and the children’s eyes when they saw their dresses! These children are poor ... and they live in troubled homes and the parents struggle to live day to day.”

A holy day

Brianna Inga is one of the children who received a dress from the program this year. She is one of 85 children in the CCD program at St. Augustine and will receive her first holy Communion on May 22.

“Brianna is one of my students, and she is a very quiet, cheerful child, who likes to participate and answer questions during our catechism classes,” Pendas said. “When she saw her new dress and veil for the first time, her eyes lit up, and she said, ‘I love it!’ Her brother, Reyli, who was standing right next to her, immediately exclaimed, ‘You’re going to look beautiful!’”

Brianna’s mother, Melida, told Pendas that receiving the dress meant so much to her. “Because it is the day that my daughter receives the holy sacrament — her first Communion. It is such an important day. I give thanks to the archdiocese for helping us, because everything costs so much now. We could not have bought something like that for her. Now my daughter is so happy waiting for her holy day. And I am, too.”

Several other parishes in the area have already contacted Gully to learn how they can participate next year. She received an email from a parish in Vermont wanting to learn more about how the program is run.

“It’s something that people didn’t give much thought to or didn’t think there was a need for, and now that we’ve brought it to their attention, people are willing to give, and that’s what matters,” Marsicano said.

“Many of these children are poor, living in run-down housing and playing in troubled neighborhoods,” Pendas said. “The Missionaries of Charity provide a little oasis for them, where they are cherished, attend Mass, share meals and are taught the truths of our Catholic faith. Thanks to the Archdiocese of Newark donation program, many like Brianna will be wearing a bright and beautiful veil this May.”

Hannah M. Brockhaus writes from Missouri.