Mother Bear – a volunteer project turned ministry

Sister Lauren Spence is an artist. An intricate mosaic that hangs just outside of the chapel at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato, Minnesota, shows her skill and eye for color and detail. The mosaic was a project for her M.A. from the University of Notre Dame. An educator for more than 25 years, she taught art, history and Latin and served in Germany and Rome. For the last 14 years, she has served as an artist for the Mother Bear Project.

Bears created by Sister Lauren Spence for children in Africa. The Mother Bear Project is a non-profit organization based in Minnesota that distributes handmade bears to children affected by HIV/AIDS in the developing world. The bears are meant to provide comfort and hope to children who have nearly nothing. The bears are hand-knit from a common pattern and made by volunteers from all over the world.

Sister Lauren had heard about the project and volunteered to make a few bears even though she did not know how to knit. She noted that making the bears was not interesting or engaging, but good to her word, she made a few. She decided to keep going, made a dozen or so bears, and decided that was that. Everything changed when a maintenance worker at Our Lady of Good Counsel came to work on the floors in her room. He asked about the bears, and she told him about the project. He was touched and commented that the bears were going to children who had very little. That exchange ignited Sister Lauren’s passion for making bears.

To date, Sister Lauren has handmade more than 2,200 bears. She estimates that each bear takes between five and nine hours, depending on the complexity of the outfits. Sister Lauren says that even after more than 2,000, each bear is exciting to finish. She has help from friends, former students and sisters, who assist in choosing colors for outfits and praying over the bears. She says her hope is that, “her bears are friends, confidants, and a comfort when children go to bed or school.” She often has half-finished and completed bears in her room awaiting their long journey to children in Africa. She says, “It is a thrill to stand them all up and know those little kids are getting a friend.”

The ministry that started as a couple bears has become a passion, prayer and love for more than 14 years. “It is an honor and privilege just to be asked to serve,” she says, “You just don’t know how people are going to be touched by a ministry.” At age 90, Sister Lauren has slowed down bear making as eye issues have impeded the process, but she is quick to add that some former students have now become involved in the project, carrying on the legacy. Learn more about the Mother Bear Project on their website

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