DES MOINES – Every week, Delores Rybacki cuts 300 to 400 lengths of nylon string, dipping their ends in glue.
And each Tuesday, a group of women and men begin transforming the 60-inch strings and bags of colorful beads into rosaries that will be blessed, then distributed locally and around the world.
More than 123,500 of these handcrafted rosaries have been given away since Rybacki founded the Rosary Makers at St. Philomena Parish in Des Moines a decade ago.
“I never thought I’d be doing it this long,” she said.
For six years, Rybacki drove to St. Joseph Parish in Tacoma to make rosaries, but in 2005 she decided to use some of her Boeing pension to start a rosary-making group at her own parish.
Today, about $7,000 is needed each year to pay for the beads, strings and Miraculous Medals used to make the rosaries. Rybacki’s funds are supplemented with quarterly contributions from St. Philomena Parish and donations from the parish’s Knights of Columbus organization.
What began as seven members making nearly 9,000 rosaries a year has grown to more than 20 members crafting 20,000 rosaries a year, according to Rybacki’s records.
On Tuesdays, the members attend 7:30 a.m. Mass, then meet in the parish hall to drop off completed rosaries and pick up new supplies. They choose beads in favorite color combinations, such as the blue-and-green theme favored by one woman for a “Seahawks rosary,” Rybacki said.
Members of the St. Philomena Rosary Makers, including founder Delores Rybacki (seated, second from right), gather after Mass every Tuesday morning. The group’s completed rosaries are blessed by their pastor, Father Stephen Woodland, or Deacon Jerry Graddon, standing together at center back. Photo: Michelle Bruno
If someone new to rosary-making shows up to join the effort, the others will demonstrate how to bead and knot. Knotting has been made easier with a special tool crafted for the group members by Delores’ husband, Al Rybacki. Consisting of umbrella stretchers (tines) and wooden dowels, the knotting tool was fashioned after one used in the Philippines. For those who still find it difficult to knot, spacers can be used in place of knots, Delores Rybacki said.
The group makes 300 to 600 rosaries a week, and Rybacki makes about 100 of those, often while watching TV and sometimes during eucharistic adoration, she said. Another member beads rosaries while commuting on the bus, sparking conversations that sometimes result in a fellow rider getting off the bus with a new rosary in hand, Rybacki said. Anna Lidzbarski, a 10-year member of the group, said she began crafting the rosaries alone, but “now my grandkids make them with me.”
Once completed, the rosaries are blessed by St. Philomena’s pastor, Father Stephen Woodland, or Deacon Jerry Graddon, then are ready to go near and far.
Each year, the group distributes 12,000 rosaries in the Seattle Archdiocese alone, Rybacki said. The Knights of Columbus at St. Philomena have a standing order for 500 rosaries a month and several parishes request the rosaries for their schools, first Communion classes, rosary crusades and healing masses, Rybacki said. Other local recipients include the Legion of Mary, prison ministries and the homeless.
Through word-of-mouth and connections to group members, the rosaries made at St. Philomena find their way to parishes and groups around the country, as well as to other countries. Haiti, Malawi, Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam are just some of the places the rosaries have been taken by members, mission groups, women religious, friends and fellow parishioners. Deanne Gribble, a seven-year member of the group, recently took 6,000 rosaries to schools in Belize with a mission group.
Rybacki said she has long had a devotion to Mary. Our Lady of Fatima, she said, asked people to pray the rosary daily for peace in the world and in families.
Making rosaries, Rybacki said, is one way she is helping make the rosary accessible to everyone. The rosary is a “really simple people’s prayer, and most of us are simple people,” she said.
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