It’s First Holy Communion season.

For months, Catholic children across the region have been preparing to receive, for the first time, the Holy Eucharist, traditionally the third of the faith’s seven sacraments and usually dispensed in the spring. The day is often filled with family gatherings, parties, and photos of the new communicants decked out in classic white outfits to mark the special occasion.

But the budget-busting cost of those dresses, veils, suits, and shoes can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Now some area parishes are creating “communion closets," rooms filled with donated communion clothing and accessories that can be borrowed for free. The concept’s appeal is about more than saving money, say parents — it’s also about being practical. Why buy something new when you can reuse something that was worn for only a few hours?

“We thought there was an absolute need for this,” said Colleen Sharp, 52, the director of parish services at St. Katherine of Sienna Church in Torresdale, who launched its communion closet last year. “We probably have 80 suits and dresses.”

The collection outgrew its initial location in the convent and is now housed in the church basement where the clothes are displayed on three large clothing racks. Nearby restrooms — one for girls and one for boys — double as changing areas.

Sharp built the inventory by requesting clothing donations from about 10 area parishes, whose members were then invited to participate in the borrowing. The only cost to families? After using the clothing, they’re asked to have it professionally dry-cleaned before returning it.

Vicki Kay, a mother of three in Holmesburg, decided to check out the inventory before heading to a retail store with her son, Dominic, 10, to buy him a communion suit.

In 2019, Chrissy Nicholl and her daughter Ella, now 9, picked out a communion dress from the St. Katherine of Sienna Communion Closet in Torresdale.
Courtesy of the Nicholl family
In 2019, Chrissy Nicholl and her daughter Ella, now 9, picked out a communion dress from the St. Katherine of Sienna Communion Closet in Torresdale.

“I feel like it’s senseless to spend $40 to $50, and my other son," who’s 7, "might not be able to wear it,” said Kay, recalling her own First Communion and how she ripped the lace on her dress at the party after the ceremony.

Dominic was pushing for a blue suit, but Kay — a traditionalist when it comes to First Communion outfits — wouldn’t have it. It had to be white.

Sure enough, at St. Katherine’s, Kay found a suit that was not only a perfect fit for Dominic but also pleased him. Now all he needed was a new shirt and tie (she hoped to rent him some white shoes).

“It’s like a four-piece suit,” he’ll have, once he gets the tie, said Kay. “He’s thinking, like, he’s 'the man’ right now."

St Katherine’s is not the only area parish to offer a Communion Closet.

In Ambler, St. Anthony of Padua opened one this year after taking over the inventory from Holy Martyrs Catholic Church in Oreland, which discontinued the service. The closet’s growing inventory offers about 60 outfits — girls’ white dresses and veils and boys’ suits (in white and other colors), all in “a variety of second-grade sizes," said Angela Lawlor, the director of religious education.

“It’s very much brand new,” Lawlor said about the idea, and “families who donate clothing are happy that something they used is going to good use for another family.”

In 2019, Chrissy Nichol helped daughter Ella, now 9, try on a communion dress from the St. Katherine of Sienna Communion Closet in Torresdale.
Courtesy of the Nicholl family
In 2019, Chrissy Nichol helped daughter Ella, now 9, try on a communion dress from the St. Katherine of Sienna Communion Closet in Torresdale.

“No money is exchanged,” she said, though St. Anthony’s closet, like St. Katherine’s, also asks that items be professionally dry-cleaned before return.

Speaking of St. Katherine’s, the parish Communion Closet is about to get a boost from Meghan Harnett, a junior at Gwynedd Mercy Academy who was looking for a way to give back to her community.

The Lansdale teen approached school officials about conducting a clothing drive to benefit St. Katherine’s closet. She’s in the process of collecting donated communion frocks from her Gwynedd Mercy classmates.

The "Communion Closet" at St. Katherine of Sienna Church, where families can check out slightly used communion outfits, shoes, and veils.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
The "Communion Closet" at St. Katherine of Sienna Church, where families can check out slightly used communion outfits, shoes, and veils.

“Rather it going to waste in a closet or throwing it away, why not give it to another girl or boy?” said Harnett, 17. “If it’s still in good condition, just pass it down.”

Harnett remembers her First Communion at Mary Mother of the Redeemer in North Wales and how she “felt like a princess.” She doesn’t want the cost of a nice dress or suit to be the reason children feel different from other communicants.

“I want them to fully enjoy the sacrament, and just be there,” she said.

St. Katherine of Sienna, 9700 Frankford Ave., in Philadelphia, will hold a Communion Closet Community Day on Saturday, March 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is open to the public.