Evelyn Dillon, flanked by her grandmother Frances Kenney and mother Sara Dillon, received her first Communion May 11 wearing the same dress both her mother and grandmother wore. (Courtesy Sara Dillon)
Evelyn Dillon, flanked by her grandmother Frances Kenney and mother Sara Dillon, received her first Communion May 11 wearing the same dress both her mother and grandmother wore. (Courtesy Sara Dillon)

It was 1966 on Chicago’s southside when the dress was first worn. Fifty-three years have passed and the dress has been worn twice more, uniting four generations of Catholic women.

When Frances Kenney was a child growing up in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, her family wasn’t rich. But for all little girls in the community, receiving first Communion was one of the most important days of their lives. Kenney’s mother took her to dress shops to pick out the dress she wanted to wear on her special day. Professional photographers were always hired to capture the important events. Kenney was given the prayer books her mother and aunt received on their first Communions, written in Polish.

“Being Polish, the church is very connected to everything we do,” said Kenney, adding how important the Eucharist was in her family. The day was kind of magical, she said.

In 1980, after she was married, Kenney and her husband moved to Portland. In 1989, the dress made a reappearance — this time donned by Kenney’s daughter Sara. The dress fit Sara perfectly.

“The lace and three different fabric layers was very different than what my peers were wearing at the time, but I loved it,” said Sara, whose last name is now Dillon.

“Just like my mother, my first Communion day at St. Joseph the Worker is one of my favorite childhood memories. Receiving Jesus and celebrating with my friends and family was a joy.”

On that day in 1989, Dillon distinctly remembers her mother saying if she had a daughter, the dress also could be worn by her. And so, when Dillon did have a daughter, the dress came out yet again.

Evelyn Dillon carried on the tradition of wearing the dress May 11 during her first Communion at St. Joseph the Worker in Southeast Portland.

“Watching her receive Communion for the first time in that dress, in the same parish was a surreal moment,” said Dillon. “She looked so happy, and it is our hope that she will remember that day as fondly as we do — a joyful celebration of her faith.”

Being a bit taller than her mother and grandmother, a strip of lace was added to the bottom of the dress. The rest of it, however, was unchanged.

Dillon and Kenney both looked on at the special moment with joy.

Kenney said she cried but that she knew she would. Dillon also  cried.

“It’s just full circle,” said Kenney.

“When I look at the dress now, I see four generations of strong Catholic women. Although my grandmother didn’t wear the dress, her faith is what started us all on a path to know and love Christ,” Dillon concluded.

Dillon hopes the story can inspire others to carry on their own family traditions around the sacraments.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org