Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Heidi Doudna is a facilitator of the Children’s Rosary group for homeschoolers at Immaculate Conception Church in Fairbanks, Alaska. Children’s Rosary was launched by Blythe Kaufman of West Hartford, Connecticut, in 2011 in an effort begun by her pastor to stave off her parish from being merged with another; it features children leading other children in the mysteries of the Rosary. It has since grown to include hundreds of groups worldwide and is featured on EWTN television and EWTN Radio Classics.
Doudna’s group meets twice a month on Fridays at the same time a Rosary group meets at St. Francis Xavier School in Birmingham, Alabama, linked up via the internet. She recently shared about the group.
How did you get involved in Children’s Rosary?
I first saw Children’s Rosary blogspot in May 2015. Then the Mullins family [who are co-facilitators] brought back information about the movement from the World Meeting of Families, and we started making plans to incorporate it into our regular bimonthly homeschool get-togethers.
Who participates in your group?
Homeschooled children, ages 3 to 17, take turns leading the decades, with the littlest ones bringing roses up to lay at the foot of the statue of Mary in conjunction with the fruit of each mystery [e.g., humility]. We typically have 7 to 10 children participating.
What do you do in your meetings?
Prior to the noon Mass, a couple of children quietly bring either real cut flowers or soft crocheted roses to the steps before the sanctuary. They set out five places for children to kneel, each with a rosary, a Children's Rosary prayer book opened to the First Sorrowful Mystery, and a flower. One older child brings a white paper-covered box filled with the worldwide intentions (as well as any personal ones) to place near the Mary statue.
The older children kneel in the pews, one with the prayer card welcoming all to the Children's Rosary, announcing the intentions and the beginning prayers. A different child leads each decade with the whole congregation responding. The smaller children kneel at the steps, in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and one gets up as the fruit of each mystery is announced to take their rose and place it in a glass bowl or vase at Mary's feet. You might also see a parent to the side of these little ones, quietly prompting them at their time to get up. Our Rosary concludes with prayers to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, the Eternal Rest prayer, and everyone standing for the Angelus.
Why do you do it in conjunction with the Birmingham school?
This is simply a delightful gift of Divine Providence! Our parish prays the Rosary at this time before every noon Mass, and these Fridays have been our homeschool group’s meeting days for many years, so it was a natural time for the children to take their turn in leading the prayers.
What benefits have you seen?
I believe that many of the children have benefited from seeing that other kids pray the Rosary, too, and that it is not just for older people. But more importantly, they are seeing that they are able to do something real and powerful in response to the many distressing situations in the world. They are able to bring to Jesus, through His Blessed Mother, the needs of those suffering from illness and sorrow in Asia, the intentions of children living in poverty in Africa, the prayer requests of those children in Birmingham, as well as the cares of those in their own diocese and families.
What is the Church like in Fairbanks?
The Northern Alaska diocese is the last remaining fully missionary diocese in the United States. Catholics make up only a small percentage of the population in Fairbanks, maybe as little as 10 percent. There are 46 parishes in our diocese spread out over an area more than twice the size of state of Texas, and the majority of these can only be reached by plane, boat or snowmobile. At present, I believe we have 18 priests. Only three belong to the Diocese of Fairbanks. We are blessed however, to have four seminarians in formation. We also have a Dominican who comes up from Anchorage once a month to celebrate a Latin Mass at Immaculate Conception Church.
Why are you homeschooling? Are there limited options for Catholic education in Fairbanks?
There is a Catholic school in town, but some of us believe that we’ve been called to homeschool our children. This lifestyle has been such a blessing to our family! While we initially began on a year-to-year basis, we have found homeschooling to be the best means of fostering family bonds and achieving academic success, but far above these, we have come to believe it is the best way to help our family keep heaven as our goal.
It is such a joyful way to live out an Alaskan lifestyle, too! We are free to go blueberry picking when the berries are ripe and the weather is beautiful, free to go out skiing during the daylight hours of our short winter days, free to take our schoolwork with us on a fishing trip to the mountains and free to go to daily Mass frequently. Our kids are free to enjoy their childhood without undue pressure to grow up so fast, and their best friends are their siblings. Praise God!
What else would you like to share?
The memories we are creating of coming away from the busyness of the world to this quiet place of prayer are sure to remain with the children, giving them a powerful avenue of recourse when faced with trials in their own future. They will remember that the answers lie in trustfully bringing their needs to Jesus, especially by reflecting on His life—and His great love—through the prayers of the Rosary.