From Skeptic to Promoter: Dominican Friar Explains the Power of the Rosary

Once skeptical of all things Marian, Dominican Father Lawrence Lew now travels the world, preaching the Holy Rosary, ‘Mary’s gift to the entire Church.’

Dominican Father Lawrence Lew during a talk on the Rosary.
Dominican Father Lawrence Lew during a talk on the Rosary. (photo: Father Clement Dickie, O.P.)

ROME — As his order’s “General Promoter of the Rosary,” Dominican Father Lawrence Lew dedicates himself to preaching and promoting the Rosary worldwide. In keeping with Dominican tradition, the Dominican priest combines his passion for theology and the sacred arts to inspire devotion through retreats, books and international missions.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, into an evangelical Protestant family, Lawrence Lew first encountered Catholicism as a teenager when his family moved to Singapore. Formed by the De La Salle Brothers in their oldest missionary school in Singapore, the future Dominican eventually discovered a passion for theology, apologetics, music and the sacred arts.

“Initially, my discovery of Catholicism was intellectual,” Father Lawrence told the Register. “I was certainly curious about what my Catholic classmates believed in, but, to be perfectly honest, I wanted to show them that they were wrong and that Protestantism was correct.”

Dominican Father Lawrence Lew
Dominican Father Lawrence Lew(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren/EWTN)

“Thankfully,” the Dominican priest added, “God is merciful and has a divine sense of humor. The more I read about what Catholics believe and what the Catholic Church teaches, the more I realized that the Catholic Church is the continuation of the apostolic Church and that what Jesus had taught his apostles has been handed down through the ages by the Church. Once I realized that, I really didn’t have a choice: I had to become a Catholic.”

After earning a degree in English civil law from the University of Leeds and joining the local seminary for the Diocese of Leeds, the Dominican order was slowly “but providentially” revealed to him, Father Lawrence explained. He started on his vocational path by looking for a community and “basically googled the names of all the religious orders [he had] ever heard of.”

“I landed on the English Dominican province’s website, which had everything I was looking for in religious life,” Father Lawrence recalled, “a community, a deep tradition of the habit, a sung choral office, a beautiful liturgy, the common life, as well as the apostolic life of preaching and teaching, and, above all, St. Thomas Aquinas. It all sort of fell into place.”


The Order of Mary

Reflecting on the origins of the Dominican Order, Father Lawrence explained: “There is a beautiful story that Our Lady begged from her Son the gift of an order that would teach, preach and correct error, and it was seen to be an act of divine mercy that such an order should exist. And for that reason, because Our Lord granted the prayers of Mary for this order to exist, the order came to be called the Order of Mary.” 

“There are many other beautiful Marian stories connected to the order,” the Dominican Father added. “For example, the white scapular worn by Dominicans was given to the order by Our Lady. She also gave us the Rosary, which is the most precious gift that she entrusted to the order.”

 The Blessed Mother giving the Holy Rosary to St. Dominic (Credit: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)
The Blessed Mother giving the Holy Rosary to St. Dominic (Photo: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

 Although Dominican tradition holds that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic in an apparition by the Virgin Mary in 1208, the tradition of praying with beads can be found in the earliest days of Christianity. Already in the third century, Father Lawrence explained, the Desert Fathers prayed with beads or knotted prayer ropes to count their praying of the 150 Psalms, but also of other prayers such as the Jesus prayer — “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner” — and the Paternoster, the Latin name for the “Our Father.

5-10: Father Lawrence Lew O.P., together with Fr. Luke Vanderkum O.P., and Fr. Benedict Croell O.P., during a Lenten Parish Mission in the Cathedral of Christ the Kind in Atlanta, US. (Credit: Private)
Dominican Father Lawrence Lew together with fellow friars Father Luke Vanberkum and Father Benedict Croell during a Lenten parish mission in the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. (Photo: Father Lawrence Lew)

Over the centuries, this prayer tradition slowly shifted, becoming more Marian. According to different sources, Benedictine monk St. Peter Damian supposedly first suggested praying Hail Marys on the beads instead of Our Fathers in the 11th century. In 1365, Carthusian monk Henry of Kalkar is said to have divided the 150 Hail Marys into 15 groups of 10, with an Our Father between each decade. The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Mary is attributed to another Carthusian monk, Dominic of Prussia (†1460), who tied each Hail Mary with a thought or phrase about Mary or Jesus.

But while the extent of St. Dominic’s contribution to the development of the Rosary remains disputed, it can be said with certainty that he prayed and preached the Rosary to convert unbelievers. In fact, at least a dozen popes have mentioned St. Dominic’s connection with the Rosary, and he is traditionally credited with spreading and popularizing the practice.


The Power of the Rosary

“As a Protestant convert, I initially said rather proudly that I didn’t think I needed Mary,” Father Lawrence recalled. “All I thought I needed was our Lord Jesus Christ, as our Savior, and the Blessed Trinity. But no one really can live as a Christian without knowing the Mother of God, because God has willed that we should come to know and love Jesus through Mary.” 

Reflecting upon Mary’s undeniable role in the history of salvation and emphasizing how it was through Mary’s “Yes” that God became man, and that creation was renewed, the Dominican priest explained how fitting it is to pray the Rosary to honor Our Lady and her Son through her prayer.

“In a nutshell,” Father Lawrence explained, “God has become man so that man can become God, as St. Athanasius said. And I think that sums up what the Rosary is about: It is a presentation of the mysteries of our salvation, as the great Dominican teacher Garrigou-Lagrange noted. It is not so much the chronology of Christ’s life that we are looking at, but the theological story of what he has done for us: Christ became man, died for our sins, and rose from the dead, that we might rise and be divinized with him.” 

Father Lawrence Lew O.P. preaching at the 2023 Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC,
Dominican Father Lawrence Lew's rosary hangs from his belt while preaching at the 2023 Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Father Clement Dickie, O.P.)

“When I preach the Rosary,” Father Lawrence added, “I basically preach about how we can participate in the life of Christ, how his life divinizes us and sanctifies us today.”

Recalling the worrying levels of social isolation, loneliness and emotional distress caused by the recent pandemic, Father Lawrence noted that he observed “a real proliferation of Rosary prayer groups who prayed through Zoom and other means.” 

Dominican Father Lawrence Lew holds the monstrance as faithful adore the Blessed Sacrament.
Dominican Father Lawrence Lew holds the monstrance as faithful adore the Blessed Sacrament.(Photo: Father Lawrence Lew)

“Praying together brings people together,” Father Lawrence said, “and I think that is the great power of the Rosary: It unites us, and it brings us right into the heart of the universal Church. We recognize that we are a communion of saints, and the Rosary is Mary’s gift to the entire Church.” 


Promoting the Rosary

On Oct. 7, 2019, the feast day of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, Father Lawrence was appointed as “General Promoter of the Rosary” by the master of the Dominican Order, Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner III.

Throughout the world, the Dominican Order is divided up into regional provinces. “Every province has a local Rosary promoter,” Father Lawrence explained. “As promoter general of the Rosary for the whole Dominican order, my main job is to try and help and coordinate the work of our local Rosary promoters.”

“Here in Rome, I met with the General Curia of the Dominican Order to present my directory for the Rosary confraternity,” Father Lawrence said, “which is one of the oldest confraternities in the Church and the largest spiritual network of people connected through the praying of the Rosary.”

Holy Mass celebrated in the traditional Dominican rite in the Rosary Shrine in London (credit: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)
Holy Mass celebrated in the traditional Dominican rite in the Rosary Shrine in London.(Photo: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

Throughout the month of May, Father Lawrence will also travel to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain, to visit and support local Rosary confraternities. This summer, he will also attend the National Eucharistic Congress in the U.S. and travel to Taiwan at the end of the year to help establish a Rosary confraternity there. 

While “Our Lady is the true and best promoter general of the Rosary,” Father Lawrence said his work as a general promoter of the Rosary includes “preaching the Rosary” through various retreats in parishes worldwide and by authoring books. 

In 2021, he wrote Mysteries Made Visible, a book featuring 20 of his photographs that illustrate the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous Mysteries. Each photograph is paired with meditations and prayers inspired by the art “to help us meditate better, especially when our minds start to wander, on the mysteries of the Rosary with the help of sacred art.”


Offering a ‘Garland of Roses’ to Mary

“The Rosary is the prayer that many of us will take with us throughout our Catholic life,” Father Lawrence observed. “It is so beautiful that we turn to the Rosary when we are sad, when we are anxious, when something happens in our lives that causes us distress, but also in happy times and to celebrate.” 

Reflecting on the fittingness of praying the Rosary during May, Father Lawrence explained that the English word “rosary” comes from the Latin rosarium, meaning a garden or garland of roses. Hence, in the most literal sense, the Rosary is “a beautiful garland of flowers that we offer to our Blessed Mother, as a spiritual bouquet of prayers.” 

 Madonna and Child with the rosary in the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome (credit: Flickr)
Madonna and Child with the rosary in the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.(Photo: Flickr/Courtesy of Father Lawrence Lew)

Since May is the month of spring, “when everything is in bloom” and coming alive after winter, it is thus natural that “we are moved to remember Our Lady, the Mother of all the living,” and pray to her for her intercession.

“We have a beautiful tradition in the Dominican Order,” Father Lawrence shared, “following the Latin word ros, which also means ‘dew.’” According to tradition, “St. Dominic was told that heresy would not be eradicated until prayers rose like dew from the ground. And so there is this beautiful idea that, as we pray, we are praying spiritual dewdrops that bring refreshment and new life to a parched world.” 

The Blessed Mother giving the Holy Rosary to St. Dominic (Credit: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)
Statue depicts the Blessed Mother giving the Holy Rosary to St. Dominic.(Photo: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

The world becomes parched by sin, by violence, division and warfare. The Rosary, the Dominican Father continued, “is therefore all the more needed so that we can water the earth with the dewfall of God’s grace, the dewfall of the Holy Spirit.”

“That is what the Rosary is: It is placing ourselves, like Mary, at the disposal of God’s grace to be obedient to God, to say ‘Yes’ to God. It is striving to bring about a new creation, to bring about peace in the world.”