Like many young girls, 11-year-old Sara Mikolajczyk of Hornell enjoys spending time with her friends, finding common interests and talking about the world around her. But what sets Sara apart is one of the ways she accomplishes this, which is by attending the Children of Mary Rosary Group.
Founded six years ago, the group meets in the perpetual adoration chapel at St. Ann’s School in Hornell every third Sunday of the month. The 12 members of the group learn the rosary then give their intentions. After an hour of prayer, they consecrate themselves in front of the Blessed Mother.
“I’ve been in the group for two years,” Sara said. “One of my friends is in it, and so are my sister and her friends.”
“It makes me happy, talking to God,” she added. “It makes me relaxed and calm. It’s very soothing, and I feel more connected with God.”
Gloria Gambino, 14, has been a member since the group began.
“It turned out to be a fun thing,” she said. “I liked the meditation of the rosary. It’s a great way to bond with your friends, and I think kids can definitely benefit from this. There are so many messages out there with the wrong ideas. It’s nice to have this and realize how important prayer is. I can’t tell you how many times during the day I find myself doing a Hail Mary.”
As a religious-education teacher in the early 1990s, Cyndi Hornbeck, a parishioner of St. Ann Church in Hornell, discovered that many kids were not familiar with the rosary, and she wanted her own daughter to learn about the roles of women in the church through the rosary and the Blessed Mother. Hornbeck learned about the Daughters of Charity rosary program to attract vocations, and she revised the program for the youths at her parish, founding the Children of Mary Rosary Group in 1999.
“This group was a way to teach kids the rosary, develop a strong spiritual base and have fun too,” Hornbeck explained.
Limited to just girls, she wanted to stress the roles of women in the Catholic Church.
“Our role as women in the church is one of prayer and a good spiritual life. I think anytime we can show a beautiful model of women we should. And the Blessed Mother does that.”
Hornbeck feels her own special bond with the Blessed Mother. She converted to Catholicism as an adult, saying God came into her life and brought Mary with him.
“I love her so much, and she has been such an inspiration in my life,” Hornbeck said of Mary. “She has changed me as a mother and as a person. My oldest son was killed in a car accident. Having her as a model got me through it. (Mary) watched her son die, and if the Lord asked her to do it, it’s the least I could do. That and the Eucharist are the greatest gifts I could ever ask for.”
This inspiration has been carried into the rosary group. People in the Our Lady of the Valley Parish community, of which St. Ann is a part, often request prayers from the Children of Mary, so the girls pray the rosary and offer these intentions.
“They think and pray for others,” Hornbeck said. “And they like to hear the follow-up stories. They think it’s really cool.”
After praying the rosary in the chapel, the girls adjourn to another room, where they make rosaries and read biblical stories and play trivia games such as Name-A-Saint. They also conduct fundraisers and use the donations to take annual trips to area shrines.
“No matter what happens, God plants the seed,” Hornbeck said of the group. “They will always have prayer and faith to rely on. That will be so rewarding to them throughout their lives.”
Father Patrick Van Durme, second-year pastor of Our Lady of the Valley, heartily agrees.
“Just being a place where our kids can come together and pray together is a huge thing,” he said. “It is saying from the beginning that God is important and that God is part of our regular life — not just on Sunday, but during the week God is there and God cares. The rosary is a simple yet incredibly powerful way to connect praying to our kids.”
He added that praying the rosary may not be considered “cool” by all in modern culture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
“We think if it does not have bells and whistles and Web pages, etc., then kids will not do it. But this (group) proves that this is not the case,” Father Van Durme stated. “Simple and fairly unchanged in hundreds of years, and there it is — the rosary. That is cool enough. I think we may have lost some of the greatest things in our church in an effort to make things ‘relevant’ to kids; we may be throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are great old traditions that should never be changed, and one is our devotion to the rosary. ”
For more information on the Children of Mary Rosary Group or to become a member, call Cyndi Hornbeck at 607/324-3841.