The 59-Bead Family

When it's time for the family rosary in Patrick and Christina Rock's household, 18-month-old Alexander Ambrose toddles to the shelf, gets the beads and puts a pillow where his father kneels.

“He can't speak yet, but he imitates us,” Patrick says. “It's endearing to see.”

The toddler is taking his first steps to one of the many benefits of praying the rosary with his family. Across America, lots of other youngsters — and their families — are doing the same.

As with any endeavor families undertake together, it takes some doing to establish and, especially, sustain a regular family rosary. Most children have short attention spans to work around. Many ‘tweens have unbridled energy to harness. And not a few teens have moods to manage. But it's clear the benefits of the family rosary far outweigh the costs — a fact worth contemplating Oct. 7, feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

“The first benefit of praying the rosary as a family is family unity,” says Father John Phalen, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries in Easton, Mass., one of whose ministries is family rosary. “There will be this trust, this unity, in the family because they've shared their prayers.” The family will face issues together.

Already, Jonna Creed's 7-year-old son, David, catches on during family rosary time in their Massachusetts home. Creed and her husband, David, also have 22-month-old Angela Marie and newborn Savannah Lee.

“We have a little intention with each bead,” Jonna Creed explains. With his turn, “our son David will say, ‘Dear Mary, please help little Savannah not to cry so much.’ That's what's on his mind, and it's a way for children to be active in the prayers.”

The youngest might not be able to understand the words of Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter for this Year of the Rosary, but they can begin to live it. The Holy Father writes, “The holy rosary … has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer that brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes toward Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.”

“We've got a lot more peace in the family,” Creed says. “We're a one-income family, and we prayed about that, and God's given us peace.”

Looks like the Holy Father had it right on this point, as well. “As a prayer for peace, the rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family,” he writes. “At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together.”

In Ohio, Tracy and Amy McManamon and their children — Sarah, 18; Catherine, 8; Elizabeth, 5; and Madalen, 1 — have seen these truths in action. “For Sarah, it has really brought peace,” says father Tracy McManamon. “Teenagers have a tough time out there today. Praying with the family, they can turn the negative influences off. I see Sarah turn to gentleness and softness. It's a peace-filled time for the family.”

It's also a time to draw near to Jesus and Mary. “I feel the Blessed Mother's very near to me and my family when we pray the rosary,” Creed says. “Praying the rosary is like holding Mary's hand.”

“The rosary,” according to the Pope, “has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety … It is an echo of the prayer of Mary.”

McManamon also finds the family rosary “a tremendous witness tool.” Teens visiting during family-prayer time are impressed — “and the Protestant kids join in with us. They say it's such a great prayer.”

There's still time left in this Year of the Rosary to start reaping these kinds of blessings. Just don't be discouraged when the inevitable roadblocks loom ahead.

“One of the first obstacles is our belief that we're too busy to pray,” Father Phalen says. “We have time to do what we give priority to.”

The Rocks in Massachusetts, whose other children include 4-year-old Isaiah, 3-year-old Dominic and another son due in December, follow this idea to good results. “We try to make it a special time we carve out of our day,” says Patrick Rock.

To overcome the obstacle of limited attention spans and easy distractions, “we create an environment different from daily activities,” he explains. “We have a statue of Mary and light a candle. So the focus is on Mary.”

Father Phalen recommends giving “the little ones whatever responsibility they can handle. Let them lead a Hail Mary, or even a part of it. Treat it as a prize, something valuable for them to do.”

The youngest might be able to do only part of the rosary. “You have to attend to where the kids are,” Rock says. Sometimes the Rocks have their youngsters pray just one decade. But, he adds, “My 4-year-old is now at the stage where he stays from beginning to end. Make it a loving special time,” he cautions, “not a task.”

Patrick Rock also learned, “The kids like the rosary because there's something in their hands. It provides contact and focus for them.”

Creed uses coloring kits from the Holy Cross Ministries. “Each sheet demonstrates a mystery of the rosary,” she says. “My son can read the words and Angela can look at pictures” such as John the Baptist baptizing Jesus.

Avoid the “mystery of the missing rosary,” Father Phalen says. Head off excuses like, “I lost my rosary,” or “She took my rosary” at the pass. How? Simple. “Have a bowl full of rosaries available on the fireplace mantle.”

What about apparent distractions? “If a young person is fidgety, ask him what he is thinking about,” he advises. “Sometimes what we label distractions are what we should be praying about.”

“Relate the mysteries to life in the family,” Father Phalen adds. “Bring the rosary alive and relate it to their life experience.” With the fourth sorrowful mystery, for instance, family members can talk about what their cross seems to be. Maybe they're “teased in class or having a hard time with a teacher.”

While Creed laments prime-time television's decline, she finds “the TV became a big aid to us with my 7-year-old,” she says. The pictures and music of the rosary broadcast daily by the Archdiocese of Boston got his attention.

Similarly, the McManamons often pray while watching the mysteries unfold on Familyland TV with Father Patrick Peyton's film, Life of Christ: Mysteries of the Rosary.

“What greater way to learn the rosary as a young person than by watching it, hearing it and touching it,” says McManamon. “They're using three senses.”

Their 5-year-old knows all about the life of Christ, he says. “My kids will see Christ crowned with thorns, and ask, ‘Why did they do that to Jesus?’ It becomes a teaching moment.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.