October 20, 2017

Rosary, devotion to Blessed Mother inspire heartfelt faith lessons passed down in families

Peggy Frey of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis shows her 5-year-old great-niece Clara Messier how to make a rosary. (Submitted photo by Tony Messier)

Peggy Frey of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis shows her 5-year-old great-niece Clara Messier how to make a rosary. (Submitted photo by Tony Messier)

(Editor’s note: 100 years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, instructing them to spread the word about the importance of praying the rosary for peace in the world, for peace in people’s hearts. In honor of the Blessed Mother’s request, and since October is the month of the Holy Rosary, The Criterion has invited readers to share their stories of how praying the rosary has made a difference in their lives. Here are some of their stories.)

By John Shaughnessy

Second of three parts (Part one here)

It started as a moment of sadness for Deacon Rick Wagner—and then it became a powerful moment of love and peace.

On that day in 2007, Deacon Wagner had come to spend time with his

father-in-law, Joe Lyons, who was in a hospice facility. As he thought about how his wife’s 81-year-old father wasn’t expected to live much longer, he also considered his father-in-law’s life, his wife and their five children. They were all great reasons to celebrate the man. But there was also the sorrow that came from seeing him “move closer to death.”

“I took Tuesday afternoon off to go sit with Joe,” Deacon Wagner recalled about that day. “I wanted not only to spend time with him, but also to give my wife and her mom and sisters a chance to step away from the situation for a time.”

Alone in the room with his father-in-law, Deacon Wagner began to pray the rosary.

“I prayed in a whisper, but audibly,” notes Deacon Wagner, the vice president of mission and ministry at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

“Joe’s body was shutting down and was reacting to this with involuntary twitching, agitated movements and shallow, uneven breathing. As I prayed the rosary, he became visibly calmer. As I increased the volume of my prayer, he became calmer still. Finally, I moved my chair closer to Joe, leaned forward and simply prayed the rosary aloud. His body movements all but stopped, his breathing slowed, and there was a sense of peace.”

Deacon Wagner felt the peace, too.

“For those 15 minutes of prayer, Joe and I experienced in a very real way the presence of God. Being part of such an intimate experience was powerful. The message was powerful as well—love of family, the power of prayer, and the presence of God in our lives.”

A direct link to the Blessed Mother

As a youth, Peg Nieman noticed that her mother had begun to head into their family’s living room every evening to pray the rosary.

“I asked her why she began this daily ritual,” recalls Nieman, a member of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg. “She explained that her new faith practice resulted as a plea to the Blessed Mother to spare her life when she nearly died after having my baby brother.”

Nieman’s own path to praying the rosary started later, after a devastating moment in American history—the tragedy of terrorists deliberately crashing planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I saw the devastation it caused in our nation, in terms of lives lost and dreams shattered. Remembering the requests of Mary to pray for peace, I began the daily habit of saying the rosary. While I found it trying initially to set aside time, it became automatic when I couldn’t sleep, when I drove a distance or during my morning walks.”

In praying for peace in the world, she also felt a change in her heart.

“I found such an inner peace and contentment—a letting go of worry about war, violence and turmoil in the United States, placing those anxieties in the hands of a greater power.

“I also felt a real connection to my mom, who had passed away too soon of cancer—and a reminder of her faith-filled example to me. I was 25 when Mom died, and pregnant with my first child. I always felt like I had a direct link to the Blessed Mother through Mom. I called on Mom to intercede for me that I would be a good mom and raise my three children well. My prayers were answered.”

‘They help me feel God’s presence’

Dolores Francis admits that in her younger years as a mother of eight children that she rarely looked to the Blessed Mother as a “model and guide for motherhood.”

“How could I, the mother of a growing family, relate to a woman with one child, and that child the Son of God?” explains Francis, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Nashville.

Yet as Francis went through the different stages of her life, the more she realized the common ground she shared with the Blessed Mother.

“When job changes required a move, I remembered that Mary and her family moved from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth. I knew the frantic worry of lost children, thankfully not for the three days she endured. We have both adjusted to a child leaving home; perhaps that is more difficult with an only child.

“She, too, knows the heartache of losing a spouse. Though I continue to live alone, I find I must be more willing to accept the help of others as Mary did in living with her Son’s good friend, St. John.”

These shared experiences have led Francis to pray the rosary with a more personal connection to Mary. Adding to the regular mysteries of the rosary, she formed her own mysteries—what she calls “the Holy Family mysteries ”—based upon the defining life moments that she and Mary have both experienced.

“They emphasize the humanity of Jesus more than the divinity,” Francis says. “They help me feel God’s presence in my life as I recall his presence in Mary’s.”

‘A journey into mystery’

Recalling her childhood, Peggy Frey remembers that “one of my favorite pastimes was exploring the mysterious world that was my mother’s purse during Mass on Sundays.”

“She kept lots of stuff in her purse: tissues for her eight children’s runny noses, dollar bills for each child to drop in the basket at the offertory, a comb, a rose petal relic of St. Rose of Lima encased in plastic,” says Frey, a member of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis. “Most mysterious of all was the little black leather case that had settled at the bottom of her purse. This case held her red, cut-glass rosary beads. I loved holding her rosary.”

Fifty years later, when her mother died, Frey found that same red rosary—“broken and missing beads by now”—in the same black leather case at the bottom of her mother’s purse.

“I’ve grown old now, almost the same age as my mother when she died these many years ago,” Frey notes. “Praying the rosary is a journey into mystery, and has deepened my faith. The rosary has comforted me during long days when I have been lonely and sad. Praying the rosary helps me express thanks for the special joys I’ve encountered on the pilgrimage that is my life.

“I return the favor of the rosary’s joy and comfort by making rosaries to send to military men and women who are fighting the profound loneliness, boredom and horror of war; by creating rosaries with special beads for family members struggling with illness; and for family members and friends celebrating special joys.

“Each bead I place on a rosary—whether it is a knot made from string, a pearl, a gemstone or plastic—is an ‘Ave Maria’ for the person who will be praying with that rosary.”†

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