BROAD BROOK – In 2005, Florence Reed made only 539 rosaries.
“It all depends on how things are going,” said the 88-year-old parishioner of St. Catherine Church, who recently topped the 30,000 mark of handmade rosaries. “Sometimes I can do a string in about nine minutes.”
Mrs. Reed is a member of St. Catherine’s Altar Rosary Society. One day in 2003, one of the members remarked that, despite the group’s name, they concentrated more on altar cleaning than on rosary activities. The group contacted Our Lady’s Rosary Makers, based in Louisville, Ky., and purchased rosary-making kits. All the women tried their hands at assembling rosaries, but Mrs. Reed had the most success with the knots.
“That first year, we made 1,865 rosaries and had them blessed at the parish and distributed free to anyone who wanted one,” she said.
“In 2007, we made 2,966. That’s when we started doing them year-round,” she said. By 2008, their six-year total exceeded 10,000, most of them made by Mrs. Reed.
Her 2005 low of 539? Just a bump in the road, she said. Four years later, in 2009, she made a personal record high of 3,484 – an average of more than nine per day.
“Sometimes I will sit down at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock and I’ll go till maybe 10. Sometimes if I want, I’ll go a little bit more,” she said.
Of course, 30,200 rosaries (the total as of mid-September 2015) are more than the 1,500 households in St. Catherine and its linked parish, St. Philip in East Windsor, can use. So what does the Altar Rosary Society do with the thousands of extra rosaries?
“A lot of them go to missions,” Mrs. Reed said. “A nun who is originally from Somers was stationed at our mission in West Africa, and she would come home in the summertime for vacation for a week or two.... A couple of years ago, the last time she was home, she came here and she said, ‘I’ve only got two suitcases.’ But she went back home loaded up with 1,200 strings of rosaries.”
Nona Reichle, an Altar Rosary Society member, does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, Mrs. Reed said. “Nona is the one responsible for the [materials],” she said. “She orders the stuff and gives them to me and I make them. I give them back to her and she gets them blessed and she ships them out.”
Or they are driven to Enfield to be given away at an Italian festival. Or they go to nursing homes, hospitals and prisons. Or they are sent to a parish in Vermont. Or they are placed in baskets in the back of the two churches, with a sign inviting parishioners to take one for free.
One time, Mrs. Reed recalls, a woman helped herself to dozens of rosaries at a time after each Mass. When questioned, the woman said she was distributing them for free to people in Hartford.
The demand for rosaries keeps Mrs. Reed busy. “I have arthritis, that’s the thing,” she said. “But this is like therapy. My shoulders hurt from the maneuvering, but it’s like therapy to keep my hands going.... I’ll sit back and [forget] my worries. I don’t think about what’s happening or how I’m feeling or something like that.… I’m doing the rosary and my concentration is on the rosary and my mind is clear of any other problems.”
She said she coats the supplied nylon string in white or clear nail polish, to stiffen it, and then threads up to five plastic or crystal beads at a time in one easy motion. She rarely miscounts, but she checks her work before tying the final knot. “It’s a lot easier to double check than to rip them out,” she said.
“I go right along. [The other women] get a kick out of it that I like to watch the NASCAR races, and I watch the races while I’m stringing beads,” she said. “At a certain point, [the race] gets interesting and I start stringing faster. During the break I’ll hurry up and string more so I can watch the race.”
If she misses a crash because she’s busy stringing beads, she doesn’t worry; “they always do a replay,” she chuckled.
Most rosaries are of one color of bead, but sometimes she will make every decade a different color. When she sent them to St. Philip Church, they were a big hit. A woman told her, “The girls love those colors, those multi-colors like the rainbow.”
Father Daniel T. Wojtun, pastor of the linked parishes, said, “She does it for free. I bless them and then people can pick them up after Mass.… A lot of people comment and say that they are grateful for all the work that she does for the church and for the Catholic faith. Not everybody can volunteer the way she does; she puts so much time into it.”
Mrs. Reed said, “I was telling my son, I said, ‘I’m getting on in years,’ and a lot of people say at my age, ‘Gee, [you’re] doing a lot,’ and I say, ‘Well, I think the Lord has got me going so I can stay in this world making rosary beads.’ That’s my one thing. When I don’t feel good or something goes wrong, I start doing rosary beads.”