October 22, 2021

‘Such a powerful prayer’

Rosary makers and an author creatively share their love of the rosary

After a night of capturing tragedies across central Indiana as a news photographer for an Indianapolis television station, Max Schroeder often comes to the Blessed Mother shrine in front of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis to pray for the people who have died and their family and friends. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne holds her favorite rosary, one she purchased in Lourdes, France, while on a trip made possible by the Holy Name School Class of 2012, which surprised her with the trip for her 50th birthday. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

NASHVILLE—A woman raised in a Catholic orphanage in Germany. A Benedictine sister who teaches middle school religion. A mother of five who found herself the sole source of financial support for her family. A priest with little time on his hands.

Their stories are quite different, but they each share one thing in common: a special love for the rosary.

For three of them, that translates into making rosaries. For one, it took the form of writing a young adult fiction book.

With the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary taking place each year on Oct. 7, October is known as the month of the rosary.

To honor this popular Catholic devotion, The Criterion interviewed these four individuals. Following are the stories of their love for the rosary and what led them to share that love in a creative way.

‘I feel like this is my calling’

Not many would be thankful for being raised in an orphanage in Germany. But for Marie Nealy “it was the best part of growing up. The structure of the Church gave me inner peace and acceptance of the things God sometimes brings to you.

“From the time I left the orphanage, the rosary has been part of my life and will always be. It is such a powerful prayer.”

The baptized Catholic carried her love for the rosary with her to Morgantown, where she moved in 1974 after marrying her husband James Michael Nealy.

It was not until about 20 years ago that Nealy, 67 and a mother of three, learned how to make rosaries. In a charming German accent, she said that the desire to learn how to make rosaries “had always been growing in me.

“One day I decided, ‘I’m going to do this,’ ” she said. “As time has gone on, it’s been very peaceful when I make them. It’s like a one-on-one conversation with God and the Holy Spirit when I make them.

“Some days, I don’t make any. Some days, I make seven or eight and I’m thankful for my time with the Lord.”

Nealy makes the rosaries in her bedroom because her husband, who has stage four larynx cancer, sleeps in a specially-angled recliner in the living room.

“Sometimes he helps me by bending pins” that make up the chain links of a rosary,” she said. “ ‘Why’ is an endless wheel that will torment you endlessly, so when there’s something in my life when I need strength, I make rosaries.”

Unfortunately, she didn’t have strength to make rosaries a year ago about this time. Nealy spent 10 days in the hospital due to complications from COVID-19.

And the timing couldn’t have been worse—she was just opening her rosary/jewelry shop “Gifts from the Heart” in the Heritage Mall in Nashville.

“I feel like this [store] is my calling,” said Nealy, who worships at various parish churches based on where her schedule has her geographically. “I just fell into it.

“I feel sometimes that by creating my rosaries, I give a little bit of myself to someone else. I give back what God has given to me in the pleasure of making [rosaries].”

‘A ministry within a ministry’

Father Timothy DeCrane’s journey to rosary-making started during his pastoral internship as a seminarian in 2016 at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

“I’ve always been curious about making rosaries and enjoyed the beauty of them,” said Father DeCrane, now parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. “I had the golden opportunity to learn from someone at St. Bartholomew who had time to teach the craft.”

The parishioner took the then-seminarian to Hobby Lobby. He picked out the beads he wanted to use, then she taught him how to make a rosary.

Now he makes them “whenever I get the chance.

“It’s a hobby for me as a priest,” he said. “About 90% of my ministry, I don’t get to see the results. So, it’s nice to make a rosary bracelet or a full rosary and see the results. It’s a stress reliever and something I can see come to completion.

“I’m also very creative, so it’s a way for me to release creativity. It’s my time to reflect.”

Father DeCrane wears one of his rosary creations on his wrist at all times so he “can pray at all times.

“The feel of it comforts me, it keeps me grounded,” he said. “It’s a simple thing, but looking down and seeing the cross, it’s like a reminder that it’s not just me floating on an island by myself.”

Father DeCrane also learned to make corded rosaries that use knots in place of beads.

He shared how Father Todd Goodson, pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish, broke his rosary.

“I made him a corded one that he couldn’t break,” said Father DeCrane. “But someone said they liked it, so Father Todd gave it to him. So, I made more for Father Todd, and he said, ‘Good, now I have more to give away!’ ”

Father DeCrane likes giving a rosary to those who are grieving a loved one, or a volunteer who went above and beyond.

“It’s a concrete act of Christ being present in the moment,” he said. “It’s a visual reminder for me and, I hope, for others of God’s love for them.

“For me, it’s a way of tithing, a part of my ministry. It’s a blessing, a ministry within a ministry.”

‘Praying the rosary calms my soul’

Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne recalled her mother Kay growing Job’s Tears plants to use their hard seeds for making rosaries.

But the religious sister never asked her mom how to make rosaries. That idea would instead come from her friend in 2009.

“My dear friend Kathy Willis was interested in learning how to make rosaries” from Kay. Sister Nicolette decided to join her, and the two “spent an afternoon” with her mom learning the craft.

Twelve years later, Sister Nicolette is still making rosaries. She, too, grows Job’s Tears, and bears the callouses of digging out the hard center to create beads.

“I love making rosaries because it is a way for me to stay focused on my love for Jesus and his mother,” said the middle school religion teacher at Holy Name of Jesus School and member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery, both in Beech Grove.

“I like to make rosaries just about any time. I often pray the rosary as I make the rosaries. Reflecting on the mysteries and walking the journey with Jesus and Mary makes the journey to the Kingdom that much sweeter!”

Sister Nicolette credits her love for the rosary to Benedictine Sister Ernestine Brenner, the librarian at the former St. Paul School in Tell City during the future sister’s fifth-grade year.

“She told me that if I prayed the rosary every day, I would be guaranteed heaven,” Sister Nicolette recalled. “That was such a relief to hear, because I certainly didn’t want to go to the other place!

“As I grew and matured in my faith, praying the rosary was more about my love for Jesus and Mary, and less about my fear of not going to heaven someday!

“Praying the rosary calms my soul and centers me in the Sacred Heart of Jesus—where I want to be more than anywhere else.”

Within a year of learning to make rosaries, Sister Nicolette started teaching others the craft.

“I started a Rosary Club at Holy Name [Parish] in 2010,” she said. “I’ve been teaching middle school students how to make rosaries for years.”

She also teaches rosary-making workshops at the Benedict Inn and Conference Center in Beech Grove, and at parishes when they invite her.

“Helping others draw close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one way I love serving God,” said Sister Nicolette. “Teaching others how to pray the rosary is just one way to deepen our relationship with Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“Having a beautiful rosary made with love is just a little part of the spiritual experience of this devotion.”

So young people will ‘experience the power of the rosary’

Stephanie Engelman, a convert to Catholicism, was considering writing a rosary-based Bible study in 2014. In her research for a publisher, she discovered the publisher Pauline Books and Media.

“The guidelines said they were specifically seeking young adult fiction,” said Engelman, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I suddenly just knew I was supposed to write a Catholic young adult fiction book. I laughed! I said, ‘God if this is what you want me to write, you have to give me an idea.’ ”

Within a few weeks of making her first Marian consecration in October that year, she recalled driving in the midst of the cornfields of Brownsburg, where she was then a member of St. Malachy Parish, “when I literally received a download [from God] of the first chapter” of her book, A Single Bead.

That November, Engelman participated in National Write a Novel Month.

“I’d finish each day with the allotted number of words you were supposed to write and have no idea what would happen next, and would wake up the next day with the next chapter,” she said.

“I wrote the first 50,000 words in November, finished in December, and submitted it to Pauline Books and Media.”

By October 2015, they extended her a contract to publish the novel.

“I take no credit whatsoever for the book,” said Engelman. “I knew it wasn’t my book, and I could take no credit.”

Her hope is that, from A Single Bead, “people will learn and understand the power of prayer, or begin to see that,” she said. “That young people will pray the rosary, and they will begin to experience the power of the rosary in their own life.”

“Interestingly,” she said, her first scheduled television appearance to promote the book had to be canceled—her husband had a debilitating heart attack that day. He was left unable to work. Engelman found herself the sole source of financial support for their five young children.

“I said, ‘OK, Mother Mary, I can do nothing to promote this [book]. I put it in your hands and trust that you will put it in whatever hands need to read it and that they will be impacted as they need to be,’ ” Engelman recalled thinking.

Now, six years after the book was published, it remains among the top 10 books for its category on Amazon, she said. It has been translated into Portuguese, and rights have been purchased to translate it into Korean.

With confidence, Engelman said, “I do love the rosary, and I have complete and absolute trust in the power of this prayer.” †

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