Beads and Songs

Here are two great voices that go great together: Catholic singer-songwriter Simonetta of the Orland Park, Ill.-based Saint Philomena Foundation and Father Benedict J. Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in South Bronx, N.Y.

Their award-winning CD collaborations, “The Rosary is a Place” and “The Rosary is a

Luminous Place
,” are heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, Relevant Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio. And they’re both available for the asking.

“It’s beautiful to help people draw closer to God and Our Lady,” Simonetta told the Register. “We get letters from people telling us they had stopped praying the Rosary, but hearing our recording made them want to pray it again. The recordings help people understand what the Rosary means. It makes it more real.”

Father Groeschel adds that these recordings are attuned to how people pray today. “Years ago before radio and television, people were accustomed to thinking quietly,” says the popular author, speaker and retreat leader. “They said the Rosary quietly. They didn’t want noise while praying. But we live with noise, we’re surrounded by it.”

“Accompanying the Rosary with music and meditation is something modern people are accustomed to,” says the priest. “They can relax and pray better with it.”

The idea for a meditative, music-based Rosary recording came naturally to Simonetta.

“Praying the Rosary is part of being Catholic,” she says. “I thought people would enjoy listening to the Rosary as a recording. I wanted to draw people to prayer.”

On each of the two recordings, Simonetta’s original songs “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “Path of Love” accompany Father Groeschel’s thoughtful meditations. “The Rosary is a Place,” which includes the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, was released in 2002. “The Rosary is a

Luminous Place
” was released in 2004 to proclaim the new Luminous Mysteries announced by Pope John Paul II.

Both recordings are distributed free of charge through the Saint Philomena Foundation, a not-for-profit Catholic apostolate that Simonetta and her husband, Len Pacek, founded in 1998 in suburban Chicago, where they live with their six children. (A seventh is on the way.)

A Spiritual Place

Father Groeschel immediately came to mind to lead the meditations, Simonetta says. She had known him since his endorsement of her first CD, “Keep Your Eyes on the Beloved,” in 1998.

“I have such high respect for him,” she says of Father Groeschel, who has largely recovered since being struck by a car, and nearly dying, in January 2004. “I knew I wanted a priest to be part of the project and, because of the way he has with words, I knew he’d be perfect to do the meditations.”

The opening for “The Rosary is a Place” is indicative of Father Groeschel’s restful meditations on both recordings.

“We want to invite you to pray the Rosary with us,” he begins. “The Rosary is many things. But perhaps the best way to think about the Rosary is to think about it as a spiritual place, as an invisible chapel that you can enter into even in a busy time of life. In a place like this to enter into silence, to prayerfulness and to follow the events of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as they must have been seen by the eyes of His mother.

“We celebrate the Rosary with Mary, but of course that means we celebrate it with Jesus. And we look on him in the mysteries of grace and salvation as His mother and Joseph and the apostles must have seen these events. So, quietly enter into your own spirit and join us as we offer the Rosary to God in honor of Christ and His mother.”

Father Groeschel was happy to contribute because he knew the project would please the Blessed Mother. “Her message is to pray the Rosary,” he says. “She asked for it at Fatima and had a Rosary in her hand at Lourdes.”

Acoustic Ambience

As for the music, Simonetta strove to write songs that would complement Father Groeschel’s signature meditation style.

Thom Price, director of programming for EWTN radio, thinks they got it just right.

“The combination of Father Groeschel’s meditations and Simonetta’s music is a wonderful way to end the evening,” he says. “We get a lot of e-mails and phone calls from people who enjoy hearing it.”

“This is a fast-paced world,” adds Price. “It’s always go, go, go. So any opportunity to unplug and join in this vital prayer of the Church is a privilege.”

The date of the recording session for “The Rosary is a Place” was a blessed surprise: the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which the Church celebrates on October 7.

“We ended up in this small chapel. It was just the two of us and the Blessed Sacrament,” Simonetta recalls. “Father had no papers. He just had his rosary in his hand.”
“As he prayed, the meditations just came,” she recalls. “The meditations brought tears to my eyes. I was thinking, ‘I can’t cry! I have to be able to sing!’ It was so moving, such a gift to record in front of the Blessed Sacrament. And on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! Our Lady wanted us to be there.”

The collaboration between Father Groeschel and Simonetta continues. They are planning a recording of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Simonetta is pleased by what their collaboration represents. “There is so much support for priests and laity to work together,” she says. “This is a witness to that, and something so beautiful was produced.”

Amy Smith writes

from Geneva, Illinois.


The Saint Philomena Foundation

(815) 462-3809

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

(718) 993-3405