They may differ in age and parish affiliation, but Frank Pettrone of Greece and Gretchen Smith of Chili share a common passion: making and giving away rosaries.
Pettrone, a parishioner of St. Lawrence Church, has for the past decade made rosaries and given them away for free to anyone who wants them. Sixteen-year-old Gretchen, a parishioner of St. Pius Tenth Church, recently came across a rosary she was given as a youngster and was inspired to organize a Girl Scout project to make and give away rosaries to soldiers deploying overseas.
Gretchen said she and the vacation Bible school classes at St. Pius Tenth made more than 100 rosaries to give to troops serving overseas as part of the project she named “Rosaries for the Warriors.” Gretchen is a Senior Scout with Troop No. 477 based at the parish.
“I got the idea because my fifth-grade teacher gave us a rosary in class that was made out of pony beads and twine,” said Gretchen, now a junior at Rochester’s Nazareth Academy. “I was cleaning up my room, and I found it.”
She had never made a rosary before, but was able to replicate the rosary her teacher had given her.
“I looked at it, and saw how it was made and based my design off that,” Gretchen said.
She said she decided to give the completed rosaries to soldiers because her cousin is in the Army.
After getting her application for her project approved from Girl Scout officials, Gretchen got to work. She sought donations for supplies; retailer Wal-Mart came through, she said.
Next, she needed helpers to make the rosaries. For two days, St. Pius Tenth’s fifth- and sixth-grade vacation Bible school classes worked with her on making them.
“It was kind of their service project,” Gretchen said.
She delivered the finished rosaries to Master Sgt. Neil Hertzler with the Unit Ministry Team of the 98th Division Initial Entry Training of the U.S. Army Reserve on North Goodman Street in Rochester.
“He was really thankful for it, and promised they would all be delivered to soldiers going on missions,” Gretchen said. “I felt really good that I was able to help.”
Hertzler said the rosaries will be sent to Catholic reservists who are being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I think that a lot of times when they are deployed, getting something from home is good, or anything handmade is good," Hertzler said.
Gretchen’s mother, Monica Smith, said her daughter definitely went above and beyond for the project. She was required by Girl Scouts to do at least 60 hours of service, but the project wound up taking her 125 hours to complete.
“She really showed a lot of leadership skills and learned a lot about herself,” Smith said. “I was so proud of her. She’s been going to Catholic schools all her life, and she’s a very caring and loving girl.”
Frank Pettrone has a purpose that keeps him stringing rosary beads each day. Whether it’s the St. Lawrence Parish Communion class, a local nursing home or the hospice home down the street, Pettrone makes at least one rosary every day to give away.
Since he started making rosaries in 1999, his creations have traveled as far as Florida, Tennessee and to a jail in Michigan. He said his goal is to make sure that everyone has a rosary.
“It brings people so much closer to Our Lady,” Pettrone said. “It’s amazing how many doors she’s opened for us.”
In addition to making the rosary, he is its first user.
“When I make a rosary, I say the rosary for the person who will be using the rosary,” Pettrone said.
He only asks that recipients return the favor.
“When I give them a rosary, I ask them to say a rosary for my family,” Pettrone said.
He said he does not accept payment for the rosaries, but occasionally will accept a small donation for supplies. He makes his rosaries out of plastic beads and string.
“He’s like a factory,” his son, Shaun Pettrone, remarked.
Frank Pettrone notes that his rosaries are useful for people in nursing homes because the beads are individually strung, allowing recipients to push beads along as they pray. If a person falls asleep while saying the rosary, he or she is able to wake up and continue praying without missing a bead. Ill recipients sometimes aren’t able to use the rosary, but still get a benefit from it even if it’s just hanging near them, he observed.
“Their face lights right up,” he said.
He uses a large binder in which to store the thank-you notes he receives from rosary recipients. Some, from children at area parishes, are decorated with drawings of the rosaries they received.
Although Pettrone delights in the notes, he said he is not yet satisfied, since there is still a strong demand for his rosaries.
“I’ve made quite a few over the years, but it’s not enough,” Pettrone said.
His wife, Marie Pettrone, notes that the rosary project is one way their family can give thanks.
“God has been good to us,” she said. “We have our problems, but everyone does.”