For nearly 49 years, Stella Maurici and her husband Sam have been active members of St Monica’s Catholic Parish in Moonee Ponds, in Melbourne’s inner north. The parish holds a special place in their hearts given it is home to three generations of the Maurici family, including their four children Giro, Ricki, Terese and Lance, and grandchildren.

The Maurici family has been helping the parish since they arrived at St Monica’s in 1972. Sam was the first to volunteer, providing assistance with the parish finances thanks to his work as an accountant. Word soon spread within the parish that Stella could sew and before long, she became known as the church’s seamstress. It’s a role that brings her and the parish community much joy.

‘I think that was my God-given gift and that’s why I like to share it. I love spreading the joy to other parishioners in the process.’

Stella initially made new albs (a long white garment) for the altar servers, followed by colourful chasubles (worn on top of the alb) for the priests. In her role as seamstress, Stella has come to learn a lot of things related to the Mass and priests’ vestments, including symbolic meanings behind the liturgical colours. She’s grateful to the parish sacristan Lynn Besterwitch for having shared much of her knowledge in this area, and to Audrey Quinn, who was the parish sacristan during Stella’s younger days. She fondly recalls making up small vases of artificial flowers for the front altar, which Audrey would say was ‘for the brides’.

Over the years, Stella has been involved in a number of special sewing projects. One of her favorites is when she helped salvage a piece of lace from the original white alb worn by former parish priest Monsignor Peter Kenny at the time of his ordination. ‘It was just beautiful,’ said Stella.

Stella shares that she has been blessed to have met so many seminarians and even sewn a few of their ordination chasubles, including that of longtime friend Fr Fabian Smith who came back for his 10th anniversary chasuble. Another memorable project saw Stella add a fluorescent white cross onto the jacket of Fr Geoff McIlroy, parish priest of St Macartan’s in Mornington. Fr Geoff is known in the community for his love of motorbikes and the white cross replaced the original biker logo of his jacket. Stella was delighted when Fr McIlroy gave her the original Harley-Davidson logo, which she in turn added to her own jacket.

Stella began receiving requests from her children’s schools to make banners and was eventually asked to create banners to decorate the interior of St Monica’s. A stand-out piece was the lectern banner she made for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (2015-2016). Stella remembers thinking, ‘what a beautiful logo’ when she first encountered the design by Fr Marko Rupnik SJ.

‘I loved absolutely every creative part of it and knowing that I could share that one with all the parishioners was just a joy. It was a big thing for everybody.’

Aside from her sewing, Stella and the family have also been involved in parish fetes and fundraisers, as well as the Festa Della Madonna Immacolata (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). Stella and Sam are also known for sharing and dropping off meals at the presbytery. Over the years, the couple has enjoyed getting to know all the priests that have served in the parish, from Fr John Lanigan through to current parish priest Fr Anthony (Tony) Feeney.

Whether Fr Feeney needs alterations or his albs washed and ironed, Stella says she is always ready to lend a helping hand. ‘And we’re not the only ones,’ she says. ‘We know of other beautiful families who have a meal ready anytime for our priests.’

During the pandemic, Stella says parishioners have rallied to provide support to Fr Feeney and his new assistant priest, Fr Andrew Choi.

‘That’s what makes a parish,’ says Stella.

As Melbourne continues to move in and out of lockdowns, Stella says there are many other parishioners who continue to help out at the parish, including in the garden and those who volunteer with the St Vincent de Paul Society. Likewise, Stella continues with her sewing and decorating tasks. She continues to help where she can to make the church feel ‘as warm as it has always felt.’

While her work has come to adorn many priestly vestments and lecterns over the years, Stella says she enjoys the quiet anonymity of her work. ‘My enjoyment is just between me and the person I’m making something for. And the Lord, of course!’ And now, among the Melbourne Catholic readers!