A stitch in time supports struggling parishes

A stitch in time supports struggling parishes President of Apostolic Work Dublin, Mary O’Reilly
A lack of volunteers makes it difficult for Apostolic Work to keep up with demand for Mass kits destined for beleaguered parishes, writes Chai Brady

Despite the number of parishes involved in making materials for celebrating Mass in impoverished countries dropping in Dublin by almost 90%, there are still dedicated members of Apostolic Work helping priests and nuns.

The Apostolic Work movement in Ireland began in 1923 in Belfast and grew in the context of burgeoning religious and missionary zeal throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It’s an organisation pioneered by women with all the work being done by volunteers.


Over the years in the Archdiocese of Dublin, the number of people involved has dropped sharply, with President of Apostolic Work in the region, Mary O’Reilly (80), saying changing times and more recently Covid has put a big spanner in the works.

They still managed to send 200 Mass kits to Africa after the first lockdown but have now been forced into a standstill due to the current lockdown.

“In every Mass kit goes two vestments, an alb, chalice and ciboria, a bell and what have you, the contents of a Mass kit cost €400, and it does come to €400 by the time you itemise everything,” Mrs O’Reilly tells The Irish Catholic.

“When I took over Apostolic Work we had 47 parishes involved, they were strong people working, sewing, collecting, and today we have six parishes.”


Much has changed since Mrs O’Reilly joined Apostolic Work, which she decided to do after the third of her three sons went to school and was looking to occupy herself in “something decent”.

Nowadays it’s challenging to get young people involved, she explains: “In my day we were mothers of a family and we did our sewing when the children were at school, we attended meetings when the children were at school or at night, whereas young people today, when they’re working, they don’t have that time anymore.

“If you have a family, you’re coming home and you’ve to occupy yourself with your children and mothers are doing that as well as probably having an office in their home. The whole thing is so totally different.”

Another issue, she says, is many young people aren’t taught how to sew at school. “When I left school, I was good at sewing, I didn’t stay on to do my Leaving Cert, I was sent to Paris to learn how to sew and dress design and dress make and what have you. My parents could see there was no point putting a book in front of me. I was able to make my Confirmation dress, as my mother use to say, ‘your brain is on the tip of your fingers Mary’, so that’s where they still are I’ll tell you,” Mrs O’Reilly laughs.


Before the first lockdown, Mrs O’Reilly was quick off the mark as she went to their head office on South Circular Road to get everything she needed for Mass kits and brought them home to her house, which she says now looks like a warehouse.

“When we were sending out all these 200 Mass kits, every couple of weeks I’d have 10-12 Mass kits ready to go, the cargo crowd in the airport came down and collected them from me here and that was just so helpful,” she explains.

Apostolic Work in Dublin ask people to sponsor Mass kits for €400 due to be sent primarily to priests and seminaries in Africa, they would then inscribe the name of a loved one on the chalice and ciborium – with Mrs O’Reilly giving the name of her late husband Paddy O’Reilly as an example. “I would get inscribed on the base of the chalice and ciborium Paddy’s name. It would say, pray for Paddy O’Reilly RIP. That Mass kit goes out to Africa in memory of Paddy and then when the priest is saying Mass, hopefully he is saying it for somebody in his own congregation, but he’d also see Paddy’s name and he’d pray for Paddy too. That’s generally what happens with the Mass kits,” she says.

Often there is a domino effect, when one priest receives a Mass kit from Apostolic Work other priests in the area request one as well. Mrs O’Reilly says they generally send a lot of kits to a seminary – who have to request them. The seminary or priest is asked to pay for the postage and packaging which comes to €65, but receive the Mass kit for free.

Sometimes people give a bit more than is needed for a Mass kit so they’re able to pay for things like monstrances, with Mrs O’Reilly saying some of the priests who write to her have been trying and make do with whatever they have such as using a glass bowl as a ciborium.

Churches closed

“Now, obviously we’re still in Covid, I’m not so busy because I don’t have enough of everything to go into a Mass kit. The churches are closed so we can’t beg, normally we wouldn’t necessarily be at a parish where there is a group of Apostolic Workers, we would just ask the parish priest if we could collect outside your church this week so that’s what we’re missing, we can’t do that now because there’s no congregation,” she says.

Speaking of the future of Apostolic Work in Dublin, Mrs O’Reilly says: “I have tried to get myself replaced, at 80 – I’m grand there’s nothing wrong with me – but if I drop dead in the morning that’s the end of Apostolic Work in Dublin. All the other ladies are my age there’s no young people involved. They just say ‘no I couldn’t do that’, so in other words they can’t take a Mass kit, they can’t put it into their car, they can’t go up to the airport and put it into the cargo area, I do all that. I’m delighted to be occupied and it’s a nice occupation, it’s not difficult. I’m doing it for so long I could do it with a blindfold.


“It [Apostolic Work] is strong in other places but just in Dublin it’s dwindling,” she says, adding that some people, while sitting in front of the televisions in the evenings, crochet cinctures [a long, rope-like cord with tasseled or knotted ends which is tied around the waist outside a priest’s alb], which is much appreciated and she encourages others to pick it up.

Writing to the Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell, Mrs O’Reilly asked if the prelate would follow in Archbishop emeritus Diarmuid Martin’s footsteps and become their patron, she added that while Covid has been a challenge and they have no money to shop for materials due to church closures, “no doubt we will come up with an answer to help us in the future”.

And while that future is uncertain for the increasingly small group in Dublin, it seems those that are there aren’t ready to throw in the towel any time soon.

For those interested in becoming involved with or donating to Apostolic Work they can contact Mary O’Reilly at 25a, The Stiles Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3, or by calling: 018338556 or 0868891236