When the Rosary House store opened, during the 1960’s peak of Catholicism in the United States, it was about the size of an A&P grocery or Woolworth 5 & 10. Since then both A&P and Woolworth have gone bust. Meanwhile their successors, the Albertson’s and Wal-Mart’s of the world, sell food and sundries in structures larger than football fields. Rosary House holds steady, with plenty of space to display vestments, chalices, statues and Bibles as well as rosaries, cases and cases of rosaries. But don’t look for a Rosary House franchise to open in your town anytime soon. The market for handmade rosaries is a shrinking one, and this throwback retail/handicraft outlet can handle all of our devotional demand.
A highway sign, painted on the wall of an abandoned warehouse in New Iberia, advertised rosary manufacture. Since I love factory tours, I had to stop. Turns out, there is no factory; Rosary House assembles rosaries by hand. Half a dozen small desks with mirrors and a drawer of supplies are scattered around the store. The middle-aged women who wait on customers and stock the shelves bead rosaries between tasks. Ruth Herbert usually assembles two or three a day. “It depends on how busy we are with other things.”
Rosary House’s signature creation is composed of 58 single color glass beads, each with a decorative sterling silver cap on either end, pieced together in reverse order from which rosary prayers are recited. The women crimp and curl a silver wire to the Madonna medallion that forms the rosary’s locus, slide a cap, a bead, and another cap onto the wire, snip it, and curl the end. Then they curl another wire in place, add another cap/bead/cap, and so on. Five decades of ten Hail Mary beads each with chain spacers and an Our Father bead between each decade. They attach the three introductory prayer beads from the bottom of the Madonna medallion. Last step is to attach the crucifix that prompts The Apostle’s Creed, the first prayer of the rosary.
A handmade sterling sliver rosary in a jewelry case costs about $350. Rosary House also makes rosary bracelets (a set of ten beads that the faithful finger forward and back), and rosary rings that count prayers by twirling. In silver, these run from $30 to $50. For the budget minded, Rosary House offers manufactured rosaries and trinket rings, shipped from the other side of the world rather than assembled on site, for as little as 95 cents.
Ruth has worked at Rosary House 29 years. She’s the oldest employee by age, although Rose Istre has worked there longer. Rose manages the inventory and determines who needs to make what. She usually creates the special orders herself. “We do birthstone rosaries with beads for the birth month of each child or grandchild. They get pretty colorful.”
Linda makes funeral rosaries, nickel instead of silver, and therefore less expensive. “The men say the rosary over the body and then give the beads to the family. Sometimes the family keeps them. Sometimes they lay them with the body. Nickel’s not as good as silver. Once it turns, it can’t be brought back. You can make silver shine forever.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I am going to New York City in May. My son is graduating from John Jay School of Justice. I’ve never travelled away from here before.” – Rose Istre
“Amen. We live with Jesus each day. His will be done.” – Ruth Herbert
Interesting story- My mother and I wrote a book about the many types of rosaries that have been approved by the Catholic Church. Our book, The Rosary Collector’s Guide, by Gloria Brady Hoffner and Helen Hoffner, has pictures and information on rosaries ranging from those that were once owned by Henry VIII to those honoring Pope Francis. Handmade rosaries such as those described in this article, however, are extra special.
Hand made rosaries are extra special, also beautiful and meaningful to the women who make them. Thank you for your comment.