On Thursday mornings in Annapolis about 20 women gather at St. John Neumann Catholic Church to create rosaries — holy objects of prayer — that will bring peace, hope, and assurance to soldiers thousands of miles away.
The women’s work seems almost quietly quaint as they string beads, tie complicated knots, talk and pray together. But the impact of their ministry resounds through the lives of the more than 150,000 soldiers, sailors and marines who now carry their “Ranger Rosaries.
In the past, points out Pat Evans, the ministry’s coordinator, praying the rosary has been credited with ending plagues and halting wars. There is nothing “quaint” about prayer.
The idea for Ranger Rosaries stems from one Annapolis man, Sgt. Bo Ristaino, a National Guard recruiter who noted that more traditional rosaries reflected light, which might make the act of prayer fatal in a war zone, where the reflection could announce one’s location to an enemy.
Ristaino designed a rosary using dark plastic, non-reflective beads, a matte black cross and parachute cord. Even the paper that lists the prayers for each bead is non-reflective.
When Ristaino shared the rosaries his 11 children had made with a chaplain, it soon became apparent that they would never be able to keep up with demand.
Scouting troops, confirmation classes, convents, and other groups were brought on board, but none matched the dedication or production of the 20 women at St. John’s.
In the past five years they have created 100,000 of the rosaries, and they perform quality control on the others before they are sent to military chaplains for distribution.
“These must be made well,” Evans said. “They should be perfect.”
Evans is surprised, and a little delighted, at the responses they get from those who use the rosaries. One group, on patrol duty in Iraq, makes sure that whoever is standing guard duty has possession of the rosary. Even when it’s not being used, it brings a sense of peace, said Evans. Soldiers hang them in their tents and Humvees and put them under their pillows.
She has received hundreds of letters of appreciation. One chaplain’s remarks are typical of most of the messages she receives.
“The troops continue to devour them…….We have two areas here where we dispense religious articles – at the chapel and the chaplain’s office/visitor center where the transient soldiers process in and out of theater. Each morning I have to replenish the supply. Each time they empty their pockets or reach into them, they are sent a “heavenly reminder” of Our Lady’s love for her children in Christ…….Keep up the good work. One never knows what harvest is reached from the seeds we sow. All are looking to find the consolation of Faith!” wrote Lt. Col. John Steiner from Iraq.
Evans was surprised to learn that 60 percent of those requesting the rosaries are Protestant, who are probably not praying the traditional “Hail Mary” prayers as intended.
But she doesn’t question God’s presence at work, or the love that’s freely shared by “the Queen of Heaven.” “As people, we are meant to pray,” Evans said. “Prayer is a conversation with the Lord. It is a lifting of our hearts and minds of God. It heals, it helps us, it restores.”
Among the woman at St. John’s are a scattering of at least three former United Methodists. For them, making the rosaries is an act of faith – that’s both fun and meaningful.
They understand John Wesley’s sentiment that beyond every great act in history are people on their knees. And still other people, creating opportunities and rosaries, to help them pray.