At home with the rosary

  • Written by Morningstar Stevenson
  • Published in NW Stories
Photo: Stephen Brashear Photo: Stephen Brashear
Celebrating 75 years, the Family Rosary Movement is flourishing in Snohomish County

Parents and kids sit on couches, crowd around the dining room table, or find space on the floor. Rosaries made of plastic beads or Lego pieces are distributed, then a candle is lit. Intentions are offered in thanks for a house being sold and a family member who has returned to church.

It’s family rosary night at Kirk and Adrianne Wieber’s Everett home, where eight adults and 24 kids — ages 7 weeks to 17 years — have gathered to pray together.

The older kids share a prayer book and take turns leading. The younger ones may be paired with an older child, or encouraged to play quietly with their buddies or color in a rosary coloring book. Babies are nursed and changed. Adrianne holds her 4-month-old, Fiona, trying to keep the baby from gumming her rosary beads.

The experience is loud and joyful, full of life and sometimes as chaotic and messy as parenting, Adrianne said. But the children eventually learn the prayers and reap the benefits of a community that prays together. Her own eight kids have become comfortable asking people for prayer, help and support, “knowing it will be there if they build communities like this,” she said.

The Wiebers, members of Immaculate Conception–Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Everett, started the family rosary group in their home a dozen years ago. The evenings have grown so popular that four separate gatherings now meet in Everett-area homes every Wednesday evening of the year. And a twice-monthly Monday group has formed north of Everett.

The Wiebers “understand what faith is and are authentically living their faith with their children,” said Deacon Dennis Kelly of Immaculate Conception–Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “If you could clone that, every parish in Western Washington would want a couple like Kirk and Adrianne.”

Conversion out of heartbreak

The Wiebers felt the healing power of a family rosary group after experiencing heartbreak.

Kirk and Adrianne began dating in high school in Spokane, then graduated from Gonzaga University. About a year after getting married, the couple learned they were expecting twins. But one of the babies, Deirdre, had a life-threatening diaphragmatic hernia.

“During that pregnancy we were desperate for prayers, really scared,” Kirk said.

His parents invited Adrianne to join their rosary group, and she found some comfort when the members asked if they could pray for her.

But a week after the twins’ birth came a devastating blow: Deirdre died. Her sister, Roisin, survived despite complications. “It was difficult dealing with life and loss at the same time,” Adrianne said.

After Deirdre’s death, Kirk and Adrianne found out that people they didn’t even know had been praying for them and the twins. Their need for prayer had been spread by the Spokane rosary group and prayer chains started by their parents.

“That definitely was the beginning of our conversion,” Adrianne said, noting the irony because she’s a cradle Catholic. She and Kirk began saying the rosary together. “We really clung to the rosary,” Adrianne said. “It was nice to have a visible tool. We had grown up with it and it was really comforting because we knew it so well.”

Growing up, both Adrianne and Kirk had prayed the family rosary more out of obligation than joy. One of Kirk’s seven siblings was always asking, “Why do we have to do this?” Adrianne’s Irish mother made the four children kneel with their eyes closed during the rosary to stop them from elbowing each other and to “curtail the giggling.”

Today, “I think we understand the power of prayer and the communion of saints is a real thing,” Adrianne said. “Before losing Deirdre, I didn’t think we really owned it — it was sort of our parents’ deal. But our belief in the existence of that [communion] has just skyrocketed,” she said. “It is just becoming more and more clear the more we pray together … as a couple, as a family, and as an extended rosary group.”

A ‘harebrained’ idea

After moving to Everett in 2002, Kirk and Adrianne joined a married couples group at St. Mary Magdalen Parish. They enjoyed the socializing, but wanted to do something more. So they came up with what Adrianne calls a “harebrained” idea: an item in the parish bulletin inviting people to come pray the rosary at their house.

They weren’t sure anyone would show up. At first, no one did. But six months later, when the Wiebers had almost forgotten about the invitation, two couples showed up on their doorstep the same night.

One pair was Paul and Joyce Crocker. Paul, who didn’t know how to pray the rosary, felt welcomed and relieved when Kirk handed him a “cheat sheet” of the rosary prayers that first night. Now the Wiebers are his “safety-net couple,” Crocker said. “They’re who we call when we need somebody at 2 in the morning.”

Not long after that first rosary night, the Wiebers moved across town, where they joined Immaculate Conception-Our Lady of Perpetual Help and helped form a homeschooling group. Word-of-mouth from that group and area parishes drew more families to their weekly rosary gathering.

When the group got too big for the Wiebers’ living room, it was split into the smaller groups. Now a core group of 15 families gather each week, and another 28 families join in as their schedules permit. Every quarter, Kirk, a civil engineer, spends some three hours creating the rotating schedule, using a JavaScript program developed with the help of a friend who is a Microsoft engineer.

The Wiebers also developed a mission statement, encouraging families to pray the rosary at home as a way of building community and support in their daily faith journeys. That simple goal “helps calm people’s fears about it being some crazy, huge commitment,” Adrianne said. “It’s really just: Say the rosary in your home as a family, maybe invite people — so it’s simple and not scary once you dive in.”

A second family

The rosary group is just one way the Wiebers pass on the faith.

They are “very committed to helping others,” said Beth Rosales, director of religious education at their parish. They also volunteer with the parish Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls and teach natural family planning as part of the parish’s marriage preparation team. “They are so patient, and they love teaching the church teachings,” Rosales said.

The Wiebers plan their life around the Wednesday evening rosary gatherings. Although they don’t host every week now, opening the family’s home to others over the years has helped Adrianne feel more comfortable asking for help. She’s no longer afraid to say, “Here’s what’s going on, and I really need prayers.”

Adrianne used to worry whether the house was clean enough or the kitchen big enough to host the rosary group. But she has learned that people come to pray, not judge, and are happy to help. If there’s laundry sitting on the couch, someone usually offers to fold it.

Now that the Wiebers visit other homes on some rosary nights, their teenagers have realized they’re not the only family that “does this weird prayer stuff or has crucifixes in their house or has a messy house,” Adrianne said.

She praises God for all the blessings of the group — families have formed friendships, supporting each other in difficult times and on joyous occasions. Members have become godparents and confirmation sponsors for others in the group.

“We have a special closeness,” said Savanna Buczkowski, a parishioner at St. Cecilia in Stanwood, who attends the group with her husband, Aaron, and their five kids, and who started the northern group two years ago.

The rosary group’s contact list has become like a prayer chain, Kirk said. “There’s emails a couple times a week saying, ‘Pray for my neighbor, my friend, my kid, myself.’”

Inspired by Our Lady of Fátima and St. John Paul II, the Wiebers pray the rosary together as a family as often as they can. “Not every evening, but we do our best,” Adrianne said. “Sometimes it’s one Hail Mary and then we’re all asleep.”

As her children become adults, Adrianne hopes the rosary will be a natural part of their daily lives, a source of support no matter what life brings, and that her kids will continue to find a supportive community like the rosary group, “to celebrate with and pray with.”

The family that prays together stays together

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Family Rosary Movement, started by Congregation of the Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton. He spread the expressions “The family that prays together stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”

As a child in Ireland, Father Peyton prayed the rosary with his family every night. While attending seminary in the U.S., he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and made a commitment to Mary that he would promote the family rosary if he recovered.

As a young priest in 1942, Father Peyton contacted every bishop in the U.S., encouraging them to promote the family rosary. Later, he created Family Theater Productions to produce radio, film and TV programs. His hope was that family prayer would lead to peace and unity in the home, and eventually the world.

Learn more about the ministry at familyrosary.org.