By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Jerome Wahl has loved the rosary his whole life. Some of his earliest memories are of kneeling around his parents’ bed with his seven siblings and praying the rosary.
Wahl, better known as Jerry or Grandpa Duke, not only prays the rosary, he makes the beaded prayer aids, as well.
“My mother loved the rosary. The first prayers I learned were the angel prayers, then the Hail Mary,” Wahl, a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Church, said in an interview at his home earlier this month. “We knelt around my parents’ bed: four on one side and four on the other.”
In the late 1990s when he was well into retirement Wahl acquired a rosary-making video from Our Lady’s Rosary Makers — a lay apostolate of the Archdiocese of Louisville that was founded in 1949 by Xaverian Brother Sylvan Mattingly — and began making his own rosaries to give away to family and friends.
Soon he went a step further and began making the beads from seeds in his garden. His creations are known as Job’s Tears rosaries.
The seeds come from a plant known scientifically as coix lachryma-jobi, also known as adlay or adlay millet. It resembles a small corn stalk and generates tear-shaped seeds.
The seeds are hard and smooth and easy to work with, Wahl said. He uses a paperclip to flush the pulp from the interior of each seed in order to create a bead.
Today, at age 95, Wahl no longer grows the Job’s Tears beads but he still diligently makes chain rosaries by hand one bead at a time from mail-order seeds. Each rosary takes about four hours to complete.
He gives many of the rosaries to his sister, Sister Sienna Marie Wahl, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity, who leads a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) group at a parish in Philadelphia. He’s made one for each of his six children and 11 grandchildren and is working on keeping up with his great-grandchildren, which number 10 so far.
Others go to his doctors, nurses or individuals whom he happens to meet. He does not accept money for the rosaries and does not wish to accept any orders.
He orders seeds from all over the world, including Peru, the Philippines, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. His favorites are nearly white. The color of the beads varies depending on where in the world they are grown.
He gets all of the rosary hardware, including the John Paul II crucifix he’s fond of, from Our Lady’s Rosary Makers.
As soon as he finishes each rosary, he takes the time to pray it before he gives it to its new owner.
“I like to meditate on the joyful mysteries. I also like to contemplate the sorrowful mysteries. It really makes you think,” he said.
Since the late 1990s, Wahl has made nearly 800 rosaries. His pace is slower than it used to be but his large hands deftly use the pliers to secure the wires that connect each bead. He has kept meticulous records and can account for nearly every rosary he has made.
His mother’s love of the rosary profoundly shaped and guided his life, said Wahl, who attended St. Therese Church and School as a child. His parents also kept a holy water font near the front door of their home on Kentucky Street.
“Each time we left the house, we would stick our finger in the holy water font and make the sign of the cross and ask God to keep us safe while we were gone,” he said. “When we came back we would bless ourself and say ‘thank you for keeping me safe.’ ”
Wahl, who taught English and Latin and later retired from Falls City Brewing Company, was married to his late wife, Alice, for 65 years. They passed on the love of the rosary to their own children and believe families could use the direction the rosary provides in their lives.
“People today don’t pray the rosary like they used to. There are so many distractions,” he said.
Wahl continues to make about three rosaries a week.
“I still plan to make rosaries as long as I can,” he said.