Story & Photos by Karen Bonar
Burr Oak — Three friends sit around the large table in the community library. The group, informally called “Our Lady, Untier of Knots,” gathers weekly to talk, laugh and catch up on life while they string rosary beads. “We all seem to need to have another rosary in front of us as you make one,” said Burr Oak resident Judy Donley, who started the group. “It must take a different part of your brain to build them than pray it.” “This morning, I made four sets and I forgot all of the Our Father beads,” Pat Windmuller chimed in. “You never notice at the beginning when you have a mistake. You never notice until the end,” Leah Garman added.
The group gathers weekly at the Burr Oak Community Library in the northern Kansas town of about 150 people. The town’s Catholic church, St. James, closed in 1915. Making rosaries was something Donley sort of fell into. She bought supplies in the winter of 2015 and began making twine rosaries as she watched TV in the evening. “I started making them because I like praying the rosary and doing crafty stuff,” she said. “I’m also a recent convert, so I’m on fire.” She joined the Church in 2012.
As she started to expand the rosary-making operation, she began exploring beyond rope rosaries. It was then she encountered Our Lady of Rosary Makers online and shifted into producing rosaries with plastic beads. She invited friends and members of all three area parishes to participate and set up shop once a week in the local library. Anywhere from three to four people gather weekly. “The rosary is so powerful that I really wanted to do it,” Windmuller said. “It’s nice, it’s fellowship. I feel like we’re doing something good for somebody.” It’s not only about creating an mechanism for prayer for others, though. “We say the “Our Lady Untier of Knots” prayer we pray before we start,” Garman said. “If something is on our hearts, we’ll pray a decade while we’re here. Or sometimes we’ll pray a decade as we make them.” “You can’t not pray when you’re making them,” Donley chimed in. The group meets for about two hours every week. Garman said she can make about eight rosaries in one sitting. “I think I can make about four (rosaries) an hour … if I don’t stop and talk,” she said.
The ladies make rosaries for several different groups. Donley said they are making some for the Junior CYO camp, which is in May, and also for the missions. When they started, it was to send the rosaries to the missions in India, Donley said. “Father George (Chalbhagam) has taken some back to India when he goes back for visits,” she said. He takes them to his sister, Sister Paula, member of the Congregation of Medical Sisters of St. Joseph, is involved with St. Joseph's College of Nursing in Dharmagiri, Kothamangalam, India. “It’s a good landing place for a bunch of rosaries,” Donley said.
In addition to sending rosaries to India with Father Chalbhagam, the ladies will send rosaries home with their pastor, Father David Micheal, HGN. “My mom always tells me when I go home that she needs more Rosaries,” he said. “She will be happy. She gives the Rosary to people.” “Tell her you made them and she’ll be really impressed,” Windmuller prodded him. The ladies showed father how to string the beads and instructed him on tying the knots between decades. “Mostly, my intention is to give to my village people and the seminarians,” he said, and added there are about 100 families in his village. “It’s a small, tiny village. I can also give some to the seminarians there. They pray the rosary every day.” “This makes you appreciate them a little more,” Garman said to Father Micheal after he completed his first rosary.
Donley said she is thankful the missionary priests to the diocese are willing to take them home and distribute them. “Father is saving us the expense of shipping and he is safeguarding them,” she said. “The international priests know how to get stuff like this home and not have it taken away or lost. He’s really the reason this is happening. I didn’t want to anonymously send the rosaries. “The international priest have been able to provide a link to those who will receive them. It makes sense because he’s our parish priest. You couldn’t ask for a better connection.”
The first year, Father Chalbhagam took about 70 rosaries to India. “Then these gals jumped in and we ended up with maybe a couple hundred for him,” Donley said. “We have that for Father Chalbhagam this year, and we’ll try to have a couple hundred for Father David to take home, too.” Father Micheal said he appreciates the work of the ladies. “It’s amazing,” he said. “They are also promoting devotion to the rosary and also doing charity for other people who cannot afford to buy the rosary. They are doing this for the mission of the world.”