Daily Reporter staff writer

GREENFIELD — Mary Ann Sharp remembers some seasons of her life in which there was a lot to pray about.

There were years when her young daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, and her father was facing his own health challenges.

“If it hadn’t been for God and the Blessed Mother, I don’t know how I’d have gotten through those years,” she said.

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She’s grateful for answers to prayer over the years, and in recent years, she’s gotten involved with a group at St. Michael Catholic Church that seeks to aid others’ prayer lives by providing them with rosaries.

A rosary is a necklace of more than 50 beads that represent a series of prayers to pray. The Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Guild gathers twice a month in the St. Michael parish office building to make rosaries.

Some are sent to Catholic missionaries for distribution to their parishioners. Others are later given to veterans, mourners, families facing an unplanned pregnancy or other souls in need of encouragement and a reminder to keep praying.

“I love it, and especially when I’m at home; it’s very relaxing,” Sharp said of the work.

Guild members buy their own supplies. Some pay $2 in annual dues to Our Lady’s Rosary Makers, an organization in the Louisville Archdiocese that sends rosaries for various purposes around the world.

It was founded in 1949 by Xaverian Brother Sylvan Mattingly, who taught others to make rosaries with the intention of them teaching others.

Many Catholics receive a rosary at First Communion from a parent or sponsor. They tend to be more elaborate, often with chain between beads, than the ones being made to send away.

Guild members have their personal rosaries handy for the close of their meeting, when they pray the rosary or at least a portion of it together. (The whole rosary takes them 15-20 minutes.)

Farrell has a rosary made from dried roses. Her mother had it made from a spray of funeral roses when Farrell’s father died in 1954. Dodie Fleming has a Jubilee 2000 rosary given to her by the Rev. Severin Messick, a beloved late priest of the parish.

But a simple rosary can be made with craft store beads in a wide range of colors, from the dark blues sent to a veterans hospital to the bright orange and green favored by worshipers in the Caribbean.

From a link on the Our Lady’s Rosary Makers website, one can order a kit with enough beads, cord, and crucifixes to make 50 rosaries for $6.90.

The kit includes a cord tool, which some guild members call a “knotter.” It’s meant to simplify what many say is the most difficult task in rosary making — tying the knots.

“The knots can be a little tricky sometimes,” said Heaven Keesling, a home-schooled 10-year-old who attends meetings with her mother, Pam.

Near her seat, Barbara Farrell wrapped cord five times with her knotting tool to ensure the knot holding a string of beads to a medallion of Mary would be strong enough.

“I think tying the knots is kind of like riding a bike,” Farrell said. “Once you learn, you never forget.”

Those making rosaries started by tying wax-coated cord to a plastic medallion with a picture of Mary on it. Then they string beads — five groups of 10 beads, each bead representing a Hail Mary prayer, separated by a larger or different color bead that represents an Our Father prayer (known to Protestants as “The Lord’s Prayer”), the prayer Jesus taught his disciples as recorded in the Bible.

Then they tie the loop to the Mary medallion. A third hole at the bottom of the medallion is for tying on another piece of cord that holds an Our Father bead, three more Hail Mary beads, another Our Father bead, and finally a crucifix.

Those praying the rosary go in almost the opposite order; they begin at the crucifix, finger each bead as they say the prayers leading up to the Mary medallion, and then pray their way around the loop of the necklace.

During repetition of Ten Hail Marys in a row — one section, or “decade,” of the rosary — there is room for the mind to wander. In each section, there is a certain mystery, a certain moment from the Bible, to reflect upon while repeating prayers.

“This is a meditation on the life of Christ,” said Dee Strahle. For example, motioning to one section, she said, “While you’re saying those ten Hail Marys, you’re meditating on Jesus in the garden.”

Strahle and others making rosaries said that while the rosary includes appeals to Mary, they do not worship her.

Sharp said Catholics ask Mary to pray for them because they feel she has special influence; if your mother asks you to do something, she said, you’re probably going to do it. Sharp is a mother still praying for her daughter, who navigated her childhood challenges and is now expecting her fourth child.

Pam Keesling has also been praying the rosary for adult children, and a son who is not Catholic but “has just recommitted his life to Christ,” she said. “That’s just a huge answer to the rosary.”

Keesling said she enjoys the camaraderie of the twice-monthly meetings. The group often goes to lunch together after its two-hour rosary-making session.

“We’re doing work for the Blessed Mother, but we also visit,” said Jody Smith.

But the blessings of the group’s work extend beyond its own fellowship and answers to prayer. Members take an interest in remembering the prayer requests placed in a basket at St. Michael. They also show up to pray the rosary with families who request it at funeral home callings.

They bring rosaries with them, and if people come who don’t have one, they are given one “so they can feel like they’re a part of it,” said Matt Plummer, a funeral director at Erlewein Mortuary.

David Stillinger, owner of Stillinger Family Funeral Home, said rosary services had been somewhat forgotten for a few years, but he feels there has been a resurgence in them, thanks to the guild’s work.

“It’s a very well-liked service,” he said. In an increasingly fast-paced world, he said, “Sometimes the ceremonial aspects get lost. It means a lot to families.”

Other rosaries have gone to missionaries and prison chaplains. Some go to Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. Guild member Ellen Pack estimates she takes 40-50 rosaries there a year.

“When a veteran is in pain, the pain may be more than physical and extend to spiritual and emotional,” the Rev. Charles Smith, staff chaplain at the center, wrote in an email. “The rosaries help veterans know that the faith community is with them and praying for them. Veterans can know they are not alone.”

Lenten emphasis

The Lenten Rosary Circle at St. Michael began with Ash Wednesday (Feb. 18) and continues through Palm Sunday (March 29). Those who participate are asked to pray one decade, or section, of the rosary daily. 

Source: St. Michael bulletin

Behind the name

The Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Guild takes its name from a reported sighting of Mary in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

“The Blessed Mother … appeared to these three children,” said Jody Smith. “She actually taught them how to say the rosary. She asked them to spread the word to ask people to say it for world peace.”

According to the church’s website, the guild began at St. Michael in June 2010, and an evening group began that September.