Rosary makers at Our Lady of the Hills spread the faith with prayers


COLUMBIA — Making rosaries was far from the mind of Ed Goebel when he was transferred from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter to San Vito Dei Normanni Air Force Base in Italy in 1982. But through a friendship with another serviceman stationed in Italy who shared his love for the religious craft, Goebel discovered he too had the same calling to spread the devotion in this concrete way.

“I remember watching Jim assemble link-chain rosaries in his spare time. One day he invited me to try it, saying, “If I can do it, anyone can!'” recalled Goebel.

After making numerous rosaries for his family and friends as gifts for weddings, baptisms, birthdays and other special celebrations, he felt the desire to teach others how to make them. When he and his family returned to the United States, they joined their present parish, Our Lady of the Hills Church, and there he made several attempts to start a rosary-making group. He had little success until Madelyn Mietti Gross, someone who shared his passion, approached him after Mass one Sunday.

“It was divine providence that I would walk up to the only person making rosaries,” Gross exclaimed. She was new to the parish and missed the fellowship she enjoyed when she belonged to a rosary-making group in Florida and was anxious to find a similar ministry in Columbia.

Through their joint enthusiasm a group was formed April 11, 1992, supported the first five years by the Knights of Columbus of the parish. The rosary group decided to make the plastic rosaries because they could be done faster and less expensively. Today the group, blended with new and old members, has made more than 75,000 multi-colored plastic rosaries that have found homes throughout the world. Our Lady of the Hills Outreach Ministry now provides funds for the rosary parts and shipping costs with some assistance from the Knights and private donors. Additional help in the assembling of the beads will soon be coming from the church’s confirmation class with seven youths who have volunteered to make rosaries part of their service project.

“Always when we need money to buy supplies, something comes up,” said Goebel, who is responsible for ordering parts and shipping out the rosaries to missions, correction facilities, hospitals and servicemen stationed home and abroad. The group was currently working on a shipment to Msgr. J. Donald Gorski’s mission in Zorritos, Peru. So far 3,700 rosaries have been set aside for Peru, and Goebel hopes to double that number by August.

The recipients of the rosaries are not the only ones who have benefited from this ministry. Ruth Gonder, a long-time member, found it to be a lifesaver after her husband passed away. She still holds the record for making the most rosaries during her grieving period (400 rosaries assembled in two weeks).

“When I lost my husband five years ago, I would cry every day until I would get sick. One day, while crying, I started to make a rosary, and I discovered the crying stopped,” she said, remembering the comfort she received while doing this work. Because of health reasons, Gonder is currently unable to make the rosaries, but she comes occasionally to give moral support to the other workers.

As a member of a family composed of several faith communities, Mary Van Brunt has discovered an ecumenical appeal for the rosary. The group, for example, benefits today from the assistance of Elizabeth Adams, a non-Catholic who pre-cuts strings for the rosaries because she “believes in the prayer.”

“There is so much to the rosary, and I don’t think people even realize it. It is not just a prayer, but also the mysteries of Christ’s life and death. I couldn’t manage my life without God, and I have come to depend on Mary’s intercession to bring me closer to him,” said Van Brunt.

Other members, like John Miles, one of the first to join the group; and a retired couple, Peter and Julie Burdis; do not usually join the group that meets every other Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Croghan Center. Instead they drop off 50 to 100 made rosaries and pick up their supplies for the next two weeks to do the work at home. The Burdis’ even take their supplies with them when they travel, finding time to make rosaries on the road.

“Most crafts get thrown away or broken, the rosary lasts an eternity because it is a prayer,” said Goebel, a distant relative of Blessed Mary Katherine Emmerick, a 19th century mystic recently beatified. He and members of the group were made aware of the profound impact of these colorful plastic rosaries in a thank you note from India. One of the sisters at the mission wrote that one single rosary touches more than one individual but their family and even an entire village that gather to pray.

By sharing their gifts, the rosary group has provided a way to spread the faith and give hope to those who receive the rosaries and those who benefit from the many prayers said with them.

To learn how to make the plastic rosary or to start a rosary-making group at your church, contact Ed Goebel at (803) 772-7400.

PHOTO: Madelyn Gross shows Christina Korb, a confirmation student from the parish, how to make a rosary.