Karen Figueroa found a Communion dress at the Communion Closet of St. Katherine of Siena Parish for her granddaughter, Mariana, who proudly wears it after receiving the Eucharist for the first time from her pastor, Msgr. Joseph Gentili, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Buckingham.

One of the most memorable dresses a young Catholic girl might wear in her early school years is the beautiful white dress she wears for her First Holy Communion. Of course, photos are taken as loving memories, but the dress is often put away and never to be worn again.

It is a shame really because First Communion dresses can be quite expensive. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about the spiffy First Communion suits worn by little boys.

Three years ago St. Katherine of Siena Parish in the Torresdale section of Philadelphia started a Communion Closet that serves the needs parents and grandparents from around the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Today the program has more than 80 dresses and 40 suits in inventory and is growing, according to parishioner Colleen Sharp.

“The sizes in our inventory range from size 4 to 20,” she said. “All of the donations are in great shape, many are brand new with tags still on. People honestly have been so, so generous and we are so happy to share with so many. Besides dresses and suits we have veils, ties, shirts, and shoes for loan.”

Some of the people who visit the Communion Closet do so simply for convenience. But during the current pandemic it could be increasingly a necessity, considering the number of people who have lost employment and income.

Also, some families had already purchased First Communion outfits for use last spring, but because of the pandemic the ceremonies were cancelled, and now the children have outgrown the purchased outfit.

In early October “we took pictures of some of the suits and dresses and posted them on Facebook,” Sharp said. “I received calls from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles wanting to visit the closet. We are grateful that we can help so many (families) through the generosity of so many.

“The Communion Closet is by appointment, but we are flexible and work with people’s schedules. We have had visitors from Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery and Chester counties. The only thing we ask is that the suits and dresses are cleaned and returned so that we can repurpose them.”

Karen Figueroa had a nice dress from her daughter’s First Communion but sadly it was too small for her granddaughter, Mariana.

“I heard about St. Katherine’s Communion Closet. I investigated, and was able to get a dress and a veil,” Figueroa said. “They were really beautiful; St. Katherine is doing a really nice job.”

As word got around, other parishes began sending dresses and suits to St. Katherine.

For example, at nearby Our Lady of Calvary School, the principal, Holy Family Sister Mildred Chesnavage, sent over 30 outfits that they had on hand.

“Other people are reaching out and that means a lot,” Sister Mildred said.

The Communion Closet at St. Katherine can be visited either to donate or receive a First Communion outfit by appointment. Contact Colleen Sharp at St. Katherine of Siena Parish at 215-637-7548.