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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 6, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
St. Vincent de Paul Thrift shop becomes gallery, store, studios
East Bay link nurtures ministry to Italian Catholics
Bead by tiny bead builds a
ministry of rosary-making

The tools of the rosary maker’s trade keep everything in place.

When and if the rosary makers of Assumption Parish get a little tired, they know they can’t let up. “Our boss won’t let us go,” said Irene Haines, who directs the group, which meets once a month at the San Leandro parish.

“That’s the Blessed Mother,” she added quickly.

The rosary makers of Assumption Parish make mission rosaries, stringing plastic beads, spacers and crucifixes on cord.
“We do our own donating,” she said of the group of 18 active rosary makers that makes about 700 — “sometimes more, sometimes a little less” — mission rosaries a month.

“The Blessed Mother sees to it we have our resources,” Haines said.

In at least four parishes in the diocese, groups of people have turned rosary-making into a ministry.

At Assumption, the group meets once a month in a room at the parish office. The rosary makers sign in on the roster with the number made — 102, 111, 102, 85, 51, 68 — beside their names.

“We’re not a club,” Haines said.

Some members stop by just long enough to drop off what they’ve made, and pick up supplies for the next months. On one morning, Virginia Rogers, who has been a parishioner for 46 years, worked on a rosary. “Every year, we have enough to keep going,” she said.

The rosary makers have crafted their own tools of the trade: square boards that have channels holding exactly 10 beads; acrylic plastic sheets cut to cover the board, so beads don’t go rolling away; fish hooks for threading; and an ingenious hook fashioned from an umbrella rib to help with tying knots. A doll needle — a long, slender needle used by doll makers — is used to pick up the beads.

Cathie MacDougall dropped in with handfuls she made at home.

“We’re world famous,” Haines said. A deacon in Canada wrote to the San Leandro group asking for rosaries. Haines asked how he got the address. He told her he’d seen it on a mission in Africa. Rosaries are shipped worldwide. The plastic beads — you can’t send glass in the mail — are stuffed into priority mail envelopes. A priest in Ventura gives them to the homeless he serves, “It gives them a little moral support,” Haines said.

Toni Vella joined the group as a beginner recently. She had read about the group in the parish bulletin, and asked if she could learn. “I’ve been meaning to do this for years,” she said. “This is very heartening, to give people a way to have prayer in their lives.”

Once you learn how, Haines said, it goes quickly; a cord rosary can be made in 10 to 15 minutes. Many say they watch TV as they make them.

“Prayer is as close as you can get to God, other than the sacraments,” said Haines. “It keeps you on your toes.”

Bonnie and Ernie Costa were introduced to rosary making at St. Edward Parish in Newark in 1972. “We went into the hall,” Bonnie Costa recalled. “There was a great big cake, like a wedding cake.” Someone said, “It’s the Blessed Mother’s birthday,” prompting the Costas to receive materials and instruction in rosary making.

In 1993, they started the Rosary Makers of Assumption Parish with 11 people. “I was the first to sign up,” Haines said.

After an article appeared in The Catholic Voice, “I got phone call after phone call,” Bonnie Costa said, from parishes far and wide, from people seeking to start a rosary-making group.

Those first rosaries from Assumption went “just everywhere,” Bonnie Costa said. “Africa, the Philippines, China. . .”

She said the Assumption group would also make rosaries to send to the military. One destination was the USS Cole, which was bombed in October 2000 in Yemen. Seventeen sailors died.

When Ana Lau saw the The Catholic Voice article about the rosary makers at Assumption Parish, she was teaching third-grade CCD at St. Perpetua Parish in Lafayette. “I thought it would be fun to make them,” she said.

Her pastor at the time, who had grown up in Assumption Parish, suggested: Why don’t you make this a ministry of the parish? She did.

When Lau joined St. Mary Parish in 2001, the rosary makers voted to come with her. “They’ve been very, very faithful,” she said.

The Walnut Creek group makes mission rosaries, which are made of cord and plastic beads. They also make custom-ordered rosaries, which can range from $15 to $90 for Swarovski crystal beads and sterling silver links.

“Our main purpose is to make rosaries for the missions,” Lau said. They fund their work — mainly the purchase of materials from Our Lady’s Rosary Makers in Kentucky — with boutiques and by fulfilling special orders.

When asked, the rosary makers will visit a Catholic school. They have a simplified rosary-making process for children.

Lau said the Knights of Columbus have been among the rosary-makers’ supporters.

And just as Lau was trained and inspired by the Assumption group, the St. Mary group helped Julie Romeo learn to make rosaries. In turn, she has a started a rosary-making group at St. Mark Parish in Richmond.

She has been providing rosaries to the Missionaries of Charity, who serve the parish, for their outreach efforts in the city, as well as in the area prisons. Rosaries are also available to those who need them, at the parish’s Esperanza House.

Some of Romeo’s favorite work is with the children of the parish and at summer camp. “I really like to have children make their own rosary,” she said. The rosary makers also take special orders for weddings and First Communion.

Jane Fuentes began making rosaries at her Sacramento parish, and continued when she moved to Christ the King in Pleasant Hill in the 1970s. She joined a small group of women who were making rosaries, and went on to teach another generation. They gather on Monday nights to pick up materials and return the finished rosaries.

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