By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
After diving into the history of the Christian church, Byron Keefe decided to convert from his childhood Baptist faith to Catholicism. He began to pray the rosary because it was something Catholics did, but it just wasn’t making any sense to him. “I reached a point where I wondered why I was doing it,” he recalled.
Shortly after reaching the breaking point, at 11:30 p.m. on July 3, 2013, he sensed Jesus speaking to him, plain as day. “If you want to honor me, honor my mother, too,” the voice seemed to say. Byron never questioned praying the rosary again. He and wife Pam were confirmed on Easter of 2014 at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, and they now pray the rosary with their six young children.
The Keefes are among a number of Catholics who pray the rosary regularly with their children. Parents say the prayer helps instill faith, a devotion to Mary and confidence in the ability to lead and memorize prayers.
A prayer for all intellectual levels
Two of the Keefes’ six young children are biological. Four are adopted, and some of them struggle with developmental disabilities. The rosary has been something the family can do together, regardless of ability, primarily because of the repetition of the prayers. “With our kids, especially those with special needs, it reinforces the Gospel message over and over,” Byron said. “It makes them feel accomplished, especially when there is so much they can’t memorize or remember. They feel like this is something they can do. They might not be able to count change or tell time, but they can say the rosary, and I believe that will have a lasting impact on their lives.”
Passing on the faith
Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish hosts a monthly family rosary event in Gannon Hall, led by Deacon Tony Mouzon and his wife, Marsha. “We are trying to help the children develop a devotion to Mary,” Marsha said. The children become an integral part of the prayer as they offer intentions, ask for intercessions and lead parts of the Hail Mary. The children, she observes, develop confidence in their ability to contribute.
Sonya and Craig Riesenberg regularly attend the family rosary event in Muscatine with their children Jolie and Bryce. Nine-year-old Bryce said he has enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the saints through asking for intercession prior to praying the rosary. Sonya feels that praying the rosary as a family has the potential to become a faith tradition that her children can pass on to their own families someday. Craig said, “This is another opportunity to pray as a family and do special intentions. The kids get into it and like to lead. This helps them learn about leadership and interacting with the church.”
Six-year-old Bella Gonzalez prayed the rosary for the first time at the Muscatine event Nov. 15 with a little help from fellow parishioner Christina Gross. Bella’s mother, Jessica Olson looked on, her arms occupied by a newborn child. Bella’s grandfather, Frank Kelly, was there too, looking at his granddaughter with pride. “It thrills me,” he said of his granddaughter learning how to pray the rosary. “It’s a powerful prayer and lets you focus on the role of Mary and devotion for your individual growth.”
Jessica sees the rosary as an important tool — along with Bible reading — for helping to teach Bella faith and morals.
Praying as a family is a nice opportunity to combine the generations and enhance the bonds, too. “A family that prays together stays together,” Frank said.
Praying in the car
Families elsewhere in the diocese also have a deep appreciation for the rosary. Keith and Denise Dexter of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Lost Nation began praying the rosary with their growing family in 2014 after former pastor Father Bill Kneemiller challenged them to do so. It’s now an essential part of their domestic faith journey.
“Our family is making it a priority to pray openly and often in our home,” Keith said. He and Denise are the parents of four children under the age of 7. While meal and bedtime prayers are fixtures of the family’s daily routine, Keith and Denise believe praying the rosary has had the strongest impact on the children.
Keith and Denise say the most convenient time to pray the rosary as a family is when everyone is in the car. “We are already looking for things to say and do and the kids are all buckled in their seats,” Keith said lightheartedly.
During the family rosary prayer session, the family members ask for Mary’s intercession. This has become a special time for the family to discuss hopes and concerns and pray for neighbors and the world, Keith said.
They’ve seen their two older children develop leadership skills by taking the initiative to lead decades of the rosary. They’ve become “prayer warriors,” Keith said. Recently, they caught their 6-year-old daughter swinging outdoors, praying that she might become a nun someday and that her cousins might consider vocations as well. “Those are things we could have never accomplished by our own efforts.”
Keith said the rosary has helped their family grow closer to Mary, each other and to Jesus. “While picking up the rosary and shutting off the radio has required conscientious effort and some parental perseverance, our moments in prayer have never been wasted. Our family is blessed when Mary and Jesus are frequent guests in our car and in our home.”
How to pray the rosary
Benefits to praying the rosary