By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 9, 2015
DAWSONVILLE—Virginia “Ginny” Burnett of Dawsonville used knitting needles to answer both a dare from a priest and a divine prompting to make a gift for Pope Francis.
Burnett, who celebrated her 92nd birthday July 2, is part of the Loving Stitches Knitting Ministry at Christ the Redeemer Church in Dawsonville. She is also a longtime parishioner at Good Shepherd Church in Cumming.
A knitter of hundreds of hats each year for soldiers and hospital patients, Burnett asks priests of both parishes to bless the hats before she sends them off.
After blessing a batch of caps a few months ago, Father Ignacio Morales, then a parochial vicar at Good Shepherd, issued a dare to Burnett.
“Now go home and knit one for the pope,” said Father Morales.
The great-grandmother thought about the priest’s challenge and also about something unusual that happened one morning.
The twinkling lights around a 30-inch statue of Mary at her home were illuminated, but no one had turned them on. She told her son, Richard, to leave the lights on until she could determine what it meant.
“She’s trying to tell me something,” thought Burnett of the Blessed Mother.
Her friend, Father Richard Morrow, told her, “You have to do something before you see Jesus.”
Burnett wondered what she was supposed to do. “You’ll know in time,” was Father Morrow’s answer.
She decided to create a special hat for the pope.
“How much higher can you go on earth?” asked Burnett.
It took four days to make the white hat with a gold cross for Pope Francis. A friend from Christ the Redeemer helped Burnett re-stitch the loosely knitted cross for a better design.
Father Morales, Father Frank Richardson, Good Shepherd pastor, and Father Brian Higgins, pastor of Christ the Redeemer, each blessed the cap.
Once the pope’s hat was completed, Burnett contacted Patrick Metts of the archdiocese’s Office of Formation and Discipleship. He met with Burnett and collected the hat. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s staff then mailed it to Pope Francis with a photograph of Burnett and a prayer of blessing.
‘She is full of life’
Burnett began knitting and sewing at the age of 16. Not the boy-crazy type of girl, Burnett would spend her evenings in front of the fireplace knitting.
“I’m from the Polish town of Chicago,” said Burnett. “I’m a cradle Catholic.”
She and husband, Robert, were married after he served during World War II.
“I’m a roller-skating buff. That’s really how I met him,” she explained.
After meeting while skating, she sent him a birthday letter once a year for three years. That was their only contact before he proposed.
“Our marriage was meant to be. He was a very devoted man,” said Burnett of her husband’s faith.
The Burnetts were married for more than 63 years. He died in 2008. Together, they adopted three children, Richard, Robert and Wanda. They raised two foster children, Thomas and Wallene, and nephew David, after his mother’s death.
Robert Burnett created a roller-skating area in the basement for his wife and children, and they learned to fly planes as a couple.
“He wouldn’t do anything without me,” said Burnett.
Now, Richard helps care for his mother, including driving her places. As an infant Richard had many health problems after his biological mother attempted to have an abortion.
Burnett was dedicated to the baby’s care. Now their roles are reversed.
“God planned it that way,” she said about her son.
Burnett has many grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. She wears a bracelet with a colored pearl for each one of the children.
“Ginny is a remarkable lady who loves her faith,” said Father Richardson. “She has a great talent for painting but also for making hats for our soldiers abroad. She is full of life.”
Burnett downplays the painting skill, although one of her works, “The Prayer Garden” hangs in a meeting room at the Cumming parish. She took up painting after her husband’s death and the garden scene took two years to complete.
Lector, minister of Eucharist at 92
Burnett and Loving Stitches’ members make brown helmet hoods for soldiers in the field and onyx hats for lieutenants. The knitted hoods or liners are for warmth for those on night patrol and are darker in color for safety reasons. They make red, white and blue hats for hospitalized soldiers and veterans. The ministry members knit shawls to warm cancer patients.
Burnett also sews baptismal attire for friends from the Baptist church. She also used to sew surplices worn by altar servers.
Burnett tries to attend daily Mass at Christ the Redeemer, which is the closest parish to her home. On Sundays, she still serves as a lector and Eucharistic minister at Good Shepherd.
“You still belong to us,” Father Richardson told her.
A statue of Mary at the front of Good Shepherd is draped with a large sandstone rosary that Robert Burnett gave to his wife many years go. She enjoys being near it during Mass.
“I talk to the Blessed Mother about him,” she said.
The Cumming parish replaced steps leading to the altar area with ramps and nicknamed them “Ginny ramps.” The ramps allow her to continue serving as a lector with ease.
“I feel so blessed. I don’t feel 92,” said Burnett.
Although she lives with daily spinal pain, she offers it as atonement for sins.
“My day is your day,” she tells God.
She also believes that her late uncle and infant brother, both named Edward, watch over her.
“I’ve got my two Edwards,” said Burnett. She said the angels tell her to get up and go to Mass.
“My mind says go. … It’s my body” that struggles, she said.
A former women’s guild president at Good Shepherd, Burnett also served as an RCIA sponsor and speaker for Christ Renews His Parish.
Burnett worked in accounting for Siemens for many years and then helped smaller businesses set up accounting programs, retiring at age 80.
After her work life was complete, she turned off her computer and never used it again.
“My computer sits there with the cobwebs,” she said.
Burnett rarely watches television, except for EWTN and Braves games while she knits.
“I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life,” she said. “I thank God every day.”