“I carried about 250 rosaries to my second home in Camerroon (Africa),” said Alicia Adajar-Duante, a member of the group.
Adajar-Duante is a volunteer registered nurse at St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital Cardiac Center in Shisong, Cameroon, and a missioner with Lay Mission Helpers of Los Angeles. Her “first” home is in Riverside where she is an active parishioner at St. Francis de Sales.
“I started bringing the group’s rosaries last year when I came to Shisong,” Adajar-Duante says. “I had about 150 rosaries and gave them to the Tertiary Sisters of St Francis who welcomed me here at their hospital, which they in turn distributed to people in the village.
When she brought the rosaries a second time, Adajar-Duante said people expressed their gratefulness and “held the rosaries as if gold as I handed it to them.”
“They thanked me for remembering them in this special way. I told them to pray the rosary every day as their devotion to Blessed Mother Mary. Their response is so positive. I made them aware that they were made by volunteer rosary makers in Riverside and they wanted to extend their thank you.”
St. Jude’s Wire Benders formed on Ash Wednesday in 1971.
“The first group was with the Air Force in 1961,” said Nancy Fowler, the group’s organizer. “I was 25 at the time. It was hard to keep the group together. I had kids in school and the group kind of fell apart. I did it on my own for a number of years. Then my good friends and I decided later when the kids were older and in school that we could start the group again, in 1971.”
During the group’s long history, many members have come and gone including former Riverside County Sheriff Ben Clark.
“He was a big rosary maker but he passed away,” said Fowler. “I knew his wife and she gave me his tools.”
The group is constantly busy with requests and has a steady stream of willing volunteers with a desire to learn the art of making a rosary. There are two types of rosaries that the group makes – cord and wire.
“I’ve always continued to use wire but as I get older, it gets harder,” said Fowler, whose hands have developed arthritis over the years. “It takes weeks to learn the wire but you can make a rosary using cord in one day.” Fowler is the only member in the group with decades of experience using wire. She initially made her own chains using pliable wire, but finds it difficult now to make it as perfect as she would like it to be.
“She’s a perfectionist,” jokes Alice Maldonado, a relatively new member now for five months and learning from Fowler about the fine art of making the rosary using wire. Maldonado is a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Riverside.
“The cords are really simple to make but the wire rosaries have a very classy look,” she says. “It’s more work but they’re rosaries, so we put more effort into them.”
Maldonado wants to continue to learn to make more rosaries using wire as there are very few in the group who are able to.
“If you can line up your ‘Our Father’ beads then you know you’re consistent,” advised Fowler as she looked over Maldonado’s wire rosary. “It hangs without kinks in the wire. She’s pretty much ready.”
Pat Subia-Orozco, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Alexandria and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes in Riverside, enjoys using both the cord and wire to make her rosaries and has a different goal in mind.
“I wanted to learn the wires but when I started making them and found out that these are being sent all over the world in large quantities, I realized that my speed is in making the rosaries with chord,” she said. “I’ll bring in the wire at a later time but I can do these really fast.”
Last year, the group made 5,726 rosaries. This year, the group has made anywhere from 60 to 200 each month. In addition to Africa, the rosaries have been sent to missions and churches in the Philippines, Mexico, Marshall Islands and other parts of the United States. The group has also made rosaries for local confirmation groups and parishes.
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.