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Promoting Our Mother One Rosary at a Time

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The television carries the evening news. During the commercials 77-year-old Norb Carey uses a specially adapted pliers to pull a piece of aluminum wire through a bead and bend it into a circle. His hand strength isn't what it used to be and he wears a hand brace, but Carey can still turn out a chain rosary in about an hour. Carey makes three or four rosaries a day. He estimates that he's made nearly 40,000 over his lifetime. Carey is one of thousands volunteering his time to make and promote rosaries around the globe.

At the age of 24, Carey responded to an article in his local Catholic newspaper about a family that was gathering to make rosaries for missions overseas. "That's how I first learned to make rosaries," said Carey.

It is from this group 53 years ago that Brother Sylvan Mattingly started Our Lady's Rosary Makers, an apostolate that today exists in all 50 states and at least 20 foreign countries. Thousands of individuals make rosaries for distribution wherever they are needed. Mike Ford, president of the apostolate, says that over the past 53 years the rosary makers have made more than 150 million rosaries.

Carey still remembers making his first rosary. "While I was making my first couple of rosaries Brother Sylvan told me, 'I know you can do better than that. Now cut that sucker up and start over. I want that rosary to last,'" remembered Carey. Unbeknownst to Brother Sylvan, once Carey completed that rosary he slipped it into his pocket and brought it home. He still uses the Job's tear rosary to pray today. While on vacation at the beach recently in Florida Carey was able to make about five per day. "It's become my avocation," he said.

Where his rosaries will end up is anyone's guess. It could be distributed, as many are, to missions in Papau New Guinea. Or it might be sent to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune for distribution to military officers. After recently receiving 5,000 free rosaries, Commander Ronald Soutiere said, "The rosary is a popular prayer for turbulent times. Family separation and the threat of war are tumultuous experiences for many deployed military members. It means a lot to them to have a Rosary for prayer and meditation."

Or, it might just end up going to a child at a Catholic school here in the states.

Bringing Rosaries to the Schools

Students at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic School in Louisville finger their rosary beads each morning. Students gather in their classes to say a decade every day. The Louisville-based Youth Rosary Program provided the rosaries, with beads matching the school colors. Our Mother of Sorrows is one of 800 schools around the world participating in the program.

"Some years ago a priest walked into a local Catholic school and asked the students to pray some basic family prayers. Only three boys were able to do it," explained the program's director, John Kilroy, Jr. With the assistance of Blue Army priest, Father Lawrence Lindle, Kilroy's family launched the program in 1982.

The program provides, free-of-charge, rosaries, scapulars, prayer cards, a Fatima statue, and videos to any school willing to lead students in at least one decade of the rosary daily. Last year alone, the program distributed more than 30,000 such materials.

"The program helps young people to learn their prayers, the faith, and how to ask God for help in their lives," said Father Lawrence Lindle. Fourth grade teacher, Mercy Sister Elizabeth Jean Mills at Holy Angels Academy in Louisville agreed. "The program has helped children learn reverence and we have used the program to pray for an end to abortion," Sister Mills said.

Participants say that the program has had some unforeseen benefits. As a result of the program, several eighth grade students and adults at Our Mother of Sorrows and other participating schools formed a Rosary Club. They gather in the Church every Monday afternoon to pray the entire rosary and also makes rosaries for distribution to the missions.

That's not all. "Since we began the rosary program our disciplinary problems have decreased in intensity and in numbers," said Denise Stead, principal at Our Mother of Sorrows.

Kilroy also recalled the joy of seeing the program's impact upon the family. "One grandparent with children in the program said that her grandchildren had brought home the pilgrim Fatima statue. Then, one child said, 'Come on, Grandma, let's say the Rosary! Parents and grandparents have just wept when this happens. They really feel the children are learning how to practice their religion."

A Family Prayer

Dick and Patricia Butler of Madison, Wis., still gather to pray the rosary together, just as they did when their six children were little. Today their children have families of their own, but they too now pray the rosary with their own families. The Butler families are members of the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign, a program whose goal is to encourage families to pray the rosary together.

The campaign traces its roots back to 1950 and the work of Brazilian farmer and storekeeper John Pozzobon.

"A Schoenstatt sister asked John to take a large wooden image of Our Lady of Schoenstatt to homes during the Holy Year 1950 and pray the rosary with families," explained Sister Jessica Swedzinski, national director of the program. "For the first two years he needed his daughter to accompany him as he could not read and could not remember the decades himself."

For thirty years, and without neglecting his wife, seven children and a small store, John walked over 140,000 kilometers carrying on his shoulder the picture of Our Lady of Schoenstatt. He described himself as "the Blessed Mother's donkey."

"He could see how much people desired the faith and how much Jesus and Mary, just on this walking pilgrimage, could help them. Near the end of his life he became a deacon. The process for his canonization was opened in 1994," continued Sister Swedzinski. The work that Pozzobon started is now continuing in all 50 states and more than 85 foreign countries.

Elfriede Stitz coordinates the rosary campaign in Virginia. There, as elsewhere, pilgrim images of Our Lady of Schoenstatt circulate among groups of four to 10 families each on a weekly basis. The program has been underway in Virginia for a decade and currently just over 400 families participate.

"With the combination of the rosary and the image, Mary becomes a part of the family," said Stitz. "Even if the family doesn't frequently pray together, the children become used to the image and family prayer. In time, family members place the image in a place of honor and decorate the shelf with candles or flowers."

Stitz related the story of one Clifton, Va. area family. "The father told me, 'You know... our children don't want to pray with us, but every time the pilgrim image comes to our home they ask: when are we going to pray?'"

Retired Madison, Wis. area businessman Dick Butler said the rosary and image had a similar impact upon his family. "When our children were younger they seemed more interested in sports, but any time they were under any kind of stress they would ask if we could say the rosary."

Even as adults, Butler said, his children long for the image that circulates among the family. "It's set up on a schedule, but if a particular family needs it, it gets detoured," explained Butler.

Butler said that prayer has played a big role in keeping their family together. All six of Butler's adult children remain in the Church. "Our son married a non-Catholic," said Butler, "but once she saw what was going on she wanted to get in on it. She later converted."


Tim Drake is features correspondent with the National Catholic Register and managing editor of He is the award-winning author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots and Saints of the Jubilee. This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.


Tim Drake MN, US
Tim Drake - Features Correspondent, 320 230-1881



Rosary, Spirituality, Mary

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