Ode to the Napkin Ring

by Katie McNally, Boston CSJ Archivist 

A few napkin rings in our CSJ Boston Archives

Many of us will have smaller circles of family around the dinner table than we are used to for Thanksgiving this year. Those of us who are accustomed to homes warmed by a crowding of relatives will find ourselves in a more intimate gathering of immediate family, or perhaps even alone, in order to protect the health of our loved ones.

Gathering around a table to share a meal is a very human act found throughout time. Like the owners of these napkin rings who left their families to enter religious life, we are called to find circles of community with whomever we sit at the dinner table. Faced with the challenge of painful but necessary physical distancing, time.

One tool of the tradition, created in the 1800s1, is the napkin ring. Its circular shape reminds us of the community – no matter how large or small – gathered together. Napkin rings are used not only for decoration but more practically as a way to denote ownership of cloth napkins between washes. We can imagine how useful they would be in the setting of a convent, monastery, or any home of a religious order.

The Boston CSJ Archives holds a collection of beautifully-crafted napkin rings, each gifted to an individual sister by her family, either upon her entrance into the congregation or for her Silver Jubilee. Some are simply inscribed with their owner’s name, others include intricate floral details or religious scenes.

How can we be spiritually present to our circles of family and friends in renewed ways this Thanksgiving?

1 Washy, K. M. (2019). The Napkin Ring: A Symbol of Community Life. Gathered Fragments, 29 (1). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1265&context=gf