It’s a Grace and a Privilege to Pray the Rosary With the Elderly

We know when God is calling us to something greater and how saying ‘Yes’ changes us and others

The Rosary Team volunteers Susan Lombardi (l) and Evette Shileny with Rosemarie
The Rosary Team volunteers Susan Lombardi (l) and Evette Shileny with Rosemarie (photo: Courtesy Photo)

It can be difficult to convey the deep feelings in our soul when God chooses to give them. My recent experience participating in the Rosary at a memory-care facility — with 12 residents, staff weaving in and out of the room, and three volunteers from “The Rosary Team” leading prayer — was a profound gift. This opportunity (or as volunteer Renata says, “this privilege”) to pray with the elderly in nursing homes is all about visiting Christ present in these souls.

Many times, we do not even wonder who lives in these big buildings that we drive by every day. The occupants are invisible to us, known only by their family, friends and caregivers. We remain comfortably detached from the lives being lived and those that pass away inside. Yet many of these residents were sitting in our pews not long ago.

For this recent Rosary, the residents sat in wheelchairs; others sat in chairs, with their walkers in front of them and canes resting next to some. An oxygen concentrator hung from one walker. One resident was cocooned in a blanket, and many wore sweaters with long sleeves, even in late summer. Most wore special shoes to minimize falls. One resident dressed for this celebration of prayer by wearing a lilac t-shirt and a colorful floral lei draped over her shoulders.

I sat down in between two residents, and they welcomed me like they expected me to be there. Colleen, one of The Rosary Team volunteers, started by singing a song, and the residents who could sing joined in. The other two volunteers, Katy and Renata, stood, sang and clapped to the song, and many residents clapped along with them. 

As an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, Colleen read the Gospel and followed the direction from her parish priest in the Communion service to the sick, distributing the Eucharist to the Catholic residents. Not all the residents were Catholic, yet all were invited to pray and participate. Next, rosaries were handed out, and the Rosary began.

Memory-care residents can be quiet, disengaged with their surroundings, and have difficulty talking. Sometimes there is disruptive behavior. At the beginning of the Rosary, one gentleman in an electric-blue shirt sat hunched over with arms crossed, another man stared straight ahead, and one woman moved her arms and hands from beginning to end but stayed seated in her chair, intently watching. 

The volunteers spoke in loud, clear voices, enabling hearing-impaired residents to follow along. The volunteers took turns leading each of the Sorrowful Mysteries, since it was a Tuesday. In the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus tells his disciples, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 36:40). The Rosary Team volunteers accompany Christ by keeping watch, praying one hour per week at the same nursing home, on the same day and time, getting to know and love the residents. 

Jesus tells us, “For I was sick, and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36). The Rosary is a Christ-centered prayer; as Pope St. John Paul II observed, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer.” It is a meditation to grow in love and knowledge of God and to spread God’s love to others. The outpouring of a volunteer’s love for the sick and elderly stems from their faithful prayer life, assenting to do God’s will. It is likely the easiest corporal work of mercy available to us.

As each volunteer took turns leading the Mysteries of the Rosary, they walked within the inner circle to reach out and touch the residents’ hands, shoulders or arms. The volunteers maintained eye contact with each resident through an entire Hail Mary. Larry, the resident on my right, gazed up at Colleen as she helped him to pray along. The gentleman who was initially hunched over, with crossed arms, sat up in his wheelchair, placed his arms by his side, and peacefully prayed as Katy reached out to him during the prayer. 

The volunteers moved systematically within the circle, silently engaging with each resident, one by one. One frail resident slept from beginning to end. I did not see her eyes open or her body stir. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in her spiritual autobiography, Story of a Soul, that “children are just as dear to their parents whether they are asleep or awake,” and God “knows our frame.” This sleeping and tired resident was wheeled in to participate because she had said “Yes” many times before — and her sleeping wasn’t a problem, as the Little Flower and Pope Francis remind us.

As a guest at this regular event, I nourished my soul. My parents did this for me and my siblings throughout our childhood. My mom gathered us to pray the family Rosary every single evening. We were not as peaceful as these residents when we were teenagers, with our vocal complaints about missing a TV show or wanting to do absolutely anything else. Thankfully, our Blessed Mother gave me a profound sense of fulfillment after these family Rosaries, just as she did on that recent summer day.

I dedicated The Rosary Team to my mom, whose example and direction inclined me to say “Yes” when presented with the opportunity to organize one Rosary. I said “Yes” to one Rosary in one memory-care facility where I attended to hospice patients. Our Blessed Mother continues to intercede for our efforts, so that more will know the powerful love of Christ and his Mother. We know when God is calling us to something greater and how saying “Yes” changes us and others.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Pray With the Pope

Visit friends and family members at assisted-living facilities to pray the Rosary on Friday, Oct. 27, to join Pope Francis in his call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in the Israel-Hamas war. See resources on the “Volunteer” page for people to get started. Dioceses can also reach out to coordinate this special ministry. There is also a large-print “Rosary Pamphlet” available. 

Teresa Rodriguez is the founder and president of The Rosary Team. She was taking care of hospice patients when she said ‘Yes’ to this calling. Teresa has a graduate degree from the Augustine Institute with a focus on evangelization and catechesis and a Master of Science in nursing. She is a geriatric nurse practitioner and loves praying and working with the elderly. In September, she appeared on EWTN Radio’s Take 2 With Jerry and Debbie.

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