Repurposing Wedding Gowns for a Merciful Cause
Pain into purpose
BY JENNIFER MIELE
CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER
PHOTOS JORDAN WHITEKO
Tears begin to well in Anne Kovalcik’s eyes when she is asked to describe her oldest daughter, Caressa.
“We called her cuppycake,” Kovalcik said. “She was so sweet and full of life.”
Caressa was the oldest of five children who were adopted by the Kovalciks in 2001 when they were 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 years old.
“She was always trying to be the little mother while I was being the big mother. She had real love of family. She never, ever forgot a birthday or anniversary,” Kovalcik said.
Caressa was 23 years old and nearly nine months pregnant when she died as a result of domestic violence.
Baby Abrianna survived for three weeks at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she was baptized.
“We went to see her, and I held her. I could not believe with all the tubes that I was able to hold her (Abrianna),” Kovalcik said. “It was my chance to hold Caressa a little bit longer and have time to give her to God fully.”
Hospital administrators went in search of a Catholic priest to baptize the baby.
“When we arrived at the hospital, they were already waiting for us, and she was dressed like a queen. They put a white gown on her. I felt badly that I did not dress her up, but they did it for me,” Kovalcik said. “As soon as I saw her so pretty, dressed up, I had the feeling that at one point I will give back. I don’t know how, but I will give back. So they baptized her, and I asked the nurse where the dress came from. She said they have a lady who gave her wedding dress so it could be transformed into a baptism dress for children.”
Over the next two years and during many hours of prayer, Kovalcik pondered donating her own wedding dress.
“As I wrote in my letter to the judge: ‘Over the weeks and months, we became stronger, and we made the decision that we will not dwell in anger, in death and in pain. We did get up; we are smiling, and we are walking with hope. It is a choice we made because our God is a God of hope and mercy,’” Kovalcik said. “The district attorney was requesting the death penalty, but that was not an option for us. By accepting his guilty plea, we shared with him that hope and mercy.
“We are educating Caressa’s son in the same spirit, and we can see the fruit of the spirit in his life when out of the blue he says: ‘I will give my dad all the time he needs, but I hope that one day he will tell me ‘I am sorry.’”
Kovalcik said she loved her wedding dress and would take it out and look at it three or four times a year. But she knew after the baptism that she would give her wedding dress to the people who made Abrianna’s baptismal dress.
She contacted Debbie Sorce, a fellow parishioner at Church of the Good Shepherd Parish in Kent, Indiana County. “I’ve always loved to sew. But sewing had to go on the back burner until I retired after 33 years of teaching,” Sorce said.
Soon after her retirement, she started a business called Pale Blue Thread, making custom wedding dresses and veils.
“When Anne came to me and asked if I could do this, I was overwhelmed with joy,” Sorce said.
“I had some dresses that people would donate and say, ‘This is my grandmother’s dress; I want to make
a christening gown.’ And I would. But I’d have extra material left. And it gave me an outlet to repurpose those gowns so that none of that would be thrown away because wedding gowns are precious to people. Now they are even more precious for children in the hospital.”
Sorce spends about three hours on each gown.
“It has to be open in the back for IVs,” she said.
Many of them end up at Children’s Hospital.
“For the longest time I didn’t know where my talents would help the church. But if we ask him, he will tell us. We just need to be open to it. In my case it was Anne coming to me about this,” Sorce said.
If you would like to donate a wedding dress, please contact Church of the Good Shepherd Parish, 724-479-3881.
Father Matthew J. Morelli, pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd Parish, Kent, told The Catholic Accent’s Jennifer Miele that the Kovalciks, despite their loss, show incredible mercy. “Not only through showing forgiveness, but also by extending that mercy to other families who are enduring similar kinds of tragedies,” Father Morelli said of the project which repurposes wedding gowns for infants being baptized in the hospital. “What Anne and Debbie are doing are using the gifts that God has given them to show that mercy to others.”