One of the world’s largest makers of rosaries resides in a nondescript brown brick building in the 4600 block of Poplar Level Road.
If you know where to look, you’ll see Our Lady’s Rosary Makers — it’s the building just behind the small statues of the Blessed Virgin, with three children and a lamb kneeling before her. And if leadership of the rosary-making ministry has its way, you’ll hear a lot about Our Lady’s in the future — especially if you are a young Catholic.
Michael Ford is general manager and president of Our Lady’s Rosary Markers, which was founded in 1949 by Xaverian Brother Sylvan Mattingly at St. Xavier High School. Marty Carraro is serving as a marketing consultant for the rosary apostolate, and between the two of them, they are determined to carry the mission of the rosary makers, and the rosary itself, to a new generation of Catholics.
Last November, for instance, they attended the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministries in Orlando, and they’ve been establishing — or re-establishing — contact with area high schools.
“About a year and a half ago Mike and I decided that we were really missing the boat particularly when it comes to young people,” Carraro explained in an interview at the apostolate’s offices last week. “We know that we have to become more aware of what’s going on outside our own building; we have to do more than just what we’ve done in the past.”
So Ford and Carraro are hoping local Catholic high schools will use Our Lady’s Rosary Makers as a place where students can earn their required “service hours.”
“We’ve talked with Assumption, Sacred Heart, Trinity and St. Xavier so far,” Ford noted, “and we were a little late getting to them for this year. So we’re hoping that by next school year we’ll have things worked out so the students can begin doing some of their service hours with us.”
The idea behind their effort is simple: It’s time to reach a new generation of young people with knowledge of the mission and efforts of Our Lady’s Rosary Makers.
That mission is straightforward, too, Ford said.
“Brother Sylvan’s founding purpose was to promote the rosary and the making of rosaries so that they could be provided free to missionaries serving around the world,” he explained. “We’re self-sustaining, though we do receive an occasional bequest. But what we’re able to do is pay for mission supplies, pay for rosaries, that are sent all across the globe.”
It is an idea that has grown dramatically over the years. The ministry that began in the basement at the old St. Xavier High School downtown, later moved to a building in Old Louisville and then re-located to the Poplar Level Road address in 1968. It’s original building there was expanded in about 1990, Ford said. And today, after a period when rosary beads were made out of town, the manufacture of those items is again in taking place in Louisville.
At Our Lady’s Rosary Makers, beads of every imaginable color are available to be assembled into “mission” rosaries or what Ford calls “gift” rosaries. Mission rosaries consist of plastic beads usually on fabric or nylon lines. The gift rosaries are a bit more expensive and use wire. “To make a chain rosary, you have to be willing to pick up pliers and fool with he wire,” Ford said, “but it doesn’t take much time to learn.”
It is a skill that not a lot of people know, however. There are only one or two other mission rosary makers in the nation, Ford said. “It’s changed over the years and we’ve seen a decline (in sales) of non-mission stuff,” he noted. “The internet has grown more competitors for us in that area.”
But Our Lady’s Rosary Makers is still producing impressive numbers — they average filling 6.5 million orders a year for rosary making supplies.
“We’re to the point now where we want to re-introduce ourselves to people,” Carraro said. “We think if we can get the attention of schools and students, if we can get the help of their parents and grandparents, then we could really do a lot of good. Our mission is simply to promote the rosary. By teaching people how to make them, by getting people to take the time to say the rosary, we can fulfill our mission.”
The men are convinced that schools could use Our Lady’s Rosary Makers supplies to make rosaries for fund-raising items. “We can make them in any school colors you can think of,” Ford said. “We just have to get people to realize that ‘missions’ are not necessarily in some place across the ocean. I’d love to see grandparents and parents get involved with the schools. Seems to me that kind of thing could really take off.”
Our Lady’s Rosary Makers is located at 4611 Poplar Level Road. They can be reached by phone at 968-1434 or at www.olrm.org.