SIMSBURY – The free rosary repair service operated year-round by snowbirds Betty and Dick Holden is a ministry with two homes: Connecticut in the summer and Florida in the winter. Mrs. Holden’s vocation, founded on a lifetime devotion to the Blessed Mother, and begun on a small scale in the 1990s, has become what the retirees now describe as their mutual calling.
Mrs. Holden – who says she feels at peace with a rosary, any rosary, in her hands – stressed the significance of that calling during an interview at their Simsbury home. She said, “Our Lady was pushing me to do the rosary repair service for years and I kept pushing her aside. I want to stress that when you do respond to Our Lady’s nudges, your life really changes for the better, no matter where she is guiding you. I want the readers to see how important it is in their own lives to respond to it well before I did.”
In the early years, Mrs. Holden formed the (Farmington) Valley Rosary Makers, a volunteer group whose members worked with kits to produce rosaries for shipment to missions and other organizations. To this day, the group remains a vital part of the Holdens’ ministry, with about 30 dedicated members who create rosaries from kits that are still provided by the Holdens and shipped free of charge in packages of 50 to locations around the world. Recipients include missions, nursing homes, hospitals, residences for retired clergy and prison ministries.
Mrs. Holden recalled that it was in those early days of rosary making that she honed many skills she later put to use in the rosary repair service. “If you know how to make something, you know how to repair it,” she said.
Though they mostly focus their full-time attention on the rosary ministry, the Holdens have integrated other retirement activities, including golfing and gardening, into active lives in both locations. They send cards, sporting a golfing couple in silhouette on the front, that advertise their free rosary repair service on the back.
Recites rosary daily
A member of St. Ann Parish in Avon, Mrs. Holden prays the rosary there daily before Mass. She also belongs to the Church of the Ascension in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. She regularly picks up envelopes containing repair requests and donated rosaries left in her baskets at St. Ann’s, as well as at St. Mary’s in Simsbury and St. Catherine of Sienna in West Simsbury. While in Florida, she does likewise at the Church of the Ascension.
When they leave Simsbury this fall before the snow flies, carefully stowed will be their stacks of organized containers holding thousands of beads; lengths of fine silver- and gold-toned chain, wire and cord; myriad tiny pieces, parts and fittings; and a unique collection of holy medals, crucifixes and corpuses of every vintage and description.
Also included will be Mr. Holden’s box of odd-looking hand tools, many of which he has fashioned intuitively, always “out of necessity, and often out of thin air.” Mrs. Holden’s packed items will include her archives of repair transactions and donated rosaries, approaching a quarter of a million entries over their 15 years of repair service.
The Holdens relish finding just the right replacement bead or beads to make a repair or to come up with a new trick to fill in the missing links. This might include affixing a different, but compatible, bead for each of the “Our Fathers,” a technique appreciated by many grateful customers.
Their goal is to not make a replaced bead stand out as new, but to make the rosary look as old as it was when it came in.
In Simsbury, Mr. Holden’s basement workshop of full-sized tools occasionally supplements the small hand tools to meet special needs, such as when a special bead must be drilled.
Watching the couple in their studio pore over boxes of donated beads of every imaginable color and shape, often picking up just one to admire its singular beauty, an observer senses not only how much they enjoy this work, but how much they enjoy doing it together.
Her broken wrist spurs husband
“Dick got more involved in it a few years back when I broke my wrist and was unable to do some of the finer repairs,” said Mrs. Holden. So over the years they’ve specialized, with Mr. Holden now doing most of the gripping, tightening and polishing, resulting in rosaries with no annoying jagged places.
Mrs. Holden, with good humor, attributes her husband’s conversion to nearly full-time rosary commitment to the Blessed Mother, “even if it meant I had to break my wrist in the process.”
She said that in addition to the donations of beads, “Our Lady always seems to supply us with donations of certain parts just when we need them.” She said a recent supply of small rosary cases seemed to come “out of the blue” just when they were needed.
In both Simsbury and Fort Myers, the couple is surrounded by statues and tributes to the Blessed Mother. At both places, their days are spent in service to Mary, including the many hours Mrs. Holden prays the rosary in their screen house in Simsbury, set among 50 years’ worth of perennial gardens.
In Connecticut, they work in a spacious bedroom/rosary studio; they perch together on a bed where Mrs. Holden often holds a skein of cord while Mr. Holden wields a measuring stick and deftly cuts appropriate lengths from it for 10 rosaries at a time. One corner of the bed is designated the inspection station, where Mr. Holden carefully lays out repaired rosaries for Mrs. Holden’s final approval.
They told of a request that once came from a South American mission. The package contained half a dozen rosaries of the style associated with cloistered orders who pray the full 150 beads of 15 decades of the rosary every day. They described “heavy, large-chained rosaries that had stood the test of time,” but the abbot was sending them for repair so they could be used more easily by the shorter brothers of the order.
Mrs. Holden, who talks (and undoubtedly prays) with a native New York City accent, recently expressed bewilderment at how their ministry has been “found” since its humble beginnings. The Holdens now regularly receive mail from around the world. Mrs. Holden attributes the expanding global awareness of their work to the intervention of the Blessed Mother, who she says “wants us to pray the rosary.”
She said they have received traditional rosaries, chaplets and various prayer beads devoted to the memory of specific saints or blessed individuals whose works are venerated within the Catholic Church. She said that it wasn’t until she was well into their ministry that she became aware of the existence of so many sacramentals, such as the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.
Upon receiving a repair request package, the Holdens will often dig among their collection of beads looking for just the right one to affix to an empty place on a chain, to be used in making a replacement or to repair a broken link in a strand. Though she does not always know the individual story behind each rosary, Mrs. Holden said she’s been doing this work long enough to trust her imagination, and her own love of the rosary, to “fill in a lot of the blanks.”
Always ready to share her own devotion to it, Mrs. Holden carries several rosaries. She related a recent request from a Baptist friend whose daughter had asked about the rosary devotion and wanted one of her own, a request Mrs. Holden was instantly able to accommodate.
“It is God’s work”
Mrs. Holden said, “It’s the links in the circle of the rosary that tie us to the story of Christ, through Mary, and that’s what our ministry is all about.”
“It is God’s work, and we will do it as long as we can,” Mrs. Holden said.
The Holdens can be reached at email@example.com. You can send broken rosaries in a padded envelope to Betty and Dick Holden, 7 Crane Place, Simsbury, CT 06070 (from May through October); or to 7930 Estero Boulevard, #502, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931 (from November through April).