Since October is the month of the Rosary, Catholic Digest spoke with Michael Ford, the president and general manager of Our Lady’s Rosary Makers. He believes Our Lady lead him to this work through daily praying the Rosary.
WHO WE ARE: Our Lady’s Rosary Makers was founded in 1949 by a Xaverian brother, Sylvan Mattingly, who taught high school in Louisville, Kentucky. In response to Mary’s call to Fatima, Brother Sylvan wanted to do something special. He had a talent for making rosaries, so he decided to start teaching people how to make rosaries to be distributed to missionaries. It struck me that sometime between 1949 to December of 1951 a 70-year-old Xaverian brother traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to Denver, Colorado to teach people to make rosaries. I don’t know if I’d want to take that trip today, even with our interstate highways and modern transportation. Brother Sylvan taught people how to take wire and beads and pair of pliers and turn it into a rosary.
OUR WORK: Our Lady’s Rosary Maker provides people with rosary supplies. The supplies are not free, but they’re provided at cost. We then provide rosary makers with the names of missionaries requesting rosaries. Missionaries send us their names to be published in our newsletter to receive finished rosaries. The rosary makers send their rosaries to the missionaries on their own.
WHO WE HELP: The rosaries are distributed in local communities, but we also have archived letters from Mother Teresa requesting rosaries. In addition to the Missionaries of Charity, the most recent newsletter contains requests ranging from EWTN to Tanzania, Malawi, India, the Philippines, Kenya, Brazil, Ireland, and Ghana. Many priests and missionaries who request rosaries have been around as long as we’ve been around. When this organization was founded, everyone was on the same page about what mission territory was—that would have been Ghana, and the Philippines, and other third-world places. But now I suppose that most every preschool and Catholic high school in the United States is mission territory to some degree from the vantage point of the rosary.
OUR MEMBERS: I’d say over the course of 60 years, tens of thousands of people have been involved and they’ve made over 200 million rosaries. She may have since retired, but one of our members is an airline stewardess. I think she called herself a “carrier pigeon” for rosaries. She was an international stewardess so she carried rosaries everywhere. Another member would call on the Missionaries of Charity, and they always wanted rosaries. We would mail them to New York, Rome, or Calcutta—or wherever the nuns would come to a headquarters, so to speak, and they’d carry the rosaries back with them.
HOW TO MAKE A ROSARY: Anybody can make a cord rosary. It is a fairly simple task. There’s a knotting tool, and you wrap twine around the tool. The tool helps you make the knots. You should be able to make a cord rosary in about 15 minutes or so. A wired rosary is more of a learned skill that takes some practice, but it’s generally worth the effort when it’s all said and done. I remember asking where the rosary came from and being told that somebody made it. I realized it was a skill that I needed to learn. It looks intricate, but it’s really not that difficult after you master the technique and practice a little bit. Many people make the rosaries while watching TV or while traveling. The ability to do the missionary work is aided by the sale of gift rosary materials. Many people purchase better quality beads and sterling silver crucifixes and centerpieces to make for gifts or sell at a fundraiser.
SUCCESS STORY: We always get letters from the missionaries, and they all start out like they’re letters from St. Paul: “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.” More than 40 years ago, Father Justin Garvey, CP, wrote from the Philippines that he had gone there to renew the faith in many parishes. He tried many things, but he said that, outside of the Mass and the sacraments, the rosaries sent by our members did more to restore the faith of those people than anything else. Personal and family prayer returned, and with that came faith and practicing the sacraments. How rich is the reward for the good works for these rosary makers!
Another success story comes from a rosary-making group who received a letter telling them of an island in the Pacific where there was only one rosary. This rosary was placed over the hands of a statue of the Blessed Mother, which stood in the fork of the path on the island. Each islander would stop, take the rosary, pray their beads, and then carefully place the rosary over Mary’s hands so the next passerby could use it, too. And one day a package came that contained 300 rosaries. Can you imagine the happiness that prevailed? They declared a holiday so they could give thanks and pass the rosary out to eager hands. We also received a letter from a sister who talked about passing out free rosaries to her lepers, and with much misgiving, even to a lady with no hands and no feet. However, the leper found a way to pass the beads over her teeth to pray.
HOW TO HELP: I remember hearing Father John Hardon give a talk on the Rosary. He said we should promote the Rosary, urge others to pray the Rosary, and teach them how to pray the Rosary.
We created a short promotional video for parishes and groups. It’s about seven minutes long and gives a tour of our facility, some images of missionaries receiving the rosaries, and the rosary groups making rosaries. The video talks about our mission and shows that rosary making is an activity that can be done by anybody.
HOW TO JOIN: The general process is to purchase a cord or rosary wire beginner kit and enroll for a temporary membership, or just notify us that you want to become a member and pay $2. That would put you on the mailing list for the newsletter, and then we send out renewal notices. I was brought up praying the Rosary, but I never saw anyone make a rosary. Once you become involved, you just think of it in terms of one bead at a time. We’re up to 6.5 million rosaries—that’s 420 billion beads! You start to realize, “Wow, that’s amazing!” We need more rosary makers, and we need more rosaries. There’s such a need for the Rosary in the world. There is no better way to promote the Rosary than to become involved with our mission.
CONTACT OUR LADY’S ROSARY MAKERS:
P.O. Box 37080 Louisville, KY 40233-7080
Telephone: (502) 968-1434