For pastor, rosary-making is contemplative work

Father Ed O’Melia strings beads onto a wire as he prepares to make a rosary.

By Anne Marie Amacher

DAVENPORT — As a child, Father Ed O’Melia recited the rosary with his family. “I stopped as I got older. I was just saying the words and did not have my heart into it.” As an adult he went back to reciting the rosary, and eventually learned how to make them.

While spending time in the bead shop at New Melleray Abbey in Peosta in the early 1960s, then-Ed O’Melia watched Father Pius Hendley make rosaries.

Serving as a choir brother for three years at New Melleray during that time, he did not venture into making rosaries until he was a lay teacher in Wisconsin a few years later.

Fr. O’Melia put down his rosary-making materials until a few years ago when he was serving as pastor at St. James Parish in Washington. He did, on occasion, make a few rosaries from the 1960s through the early years of this new century.


Now pastor of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, Fr. O’Melia makes rosaries as a way to relax.

“It’s kind of like a contemplative exercise — making rosaries,” he said. He usually has the television turned on to the news or a program recorded earlier, but tends to “forget about everything else,” when he’s making rosaries.

In his living room upstairs in St. Mary’s rectory, Fr. O’Melia has rosary-making materials spread out on several tables and the couch. He selects the wire he will work with. He prefers 22-gauge because it’s flexible, yet sturdy. He adds a chain to the end so the beads don’t fall off while he’s stringing the rosary. After selecting the beads for the particular rosary, he strings beads a decade at a time. “I used to string the beads one at a time, now I do 10 at a time.”

Many of the beads come on corded string so he doesn’t have loose beads falling all over the rectory floor. After stringing a decade, he chooses a different color bead for the next part of the rosary. He repeats the process until all of the beads are strung. Then he adds the medallion and crucifix to finish it.

When he first started making rosaries, he got his supplies from Our Lady of the Rosary Makers. He was able to purchase all he needed: beads, wire, pliers, crosses and more.

He continues to buy products from there as well as from another bead company he likes.

He’s always looking for closeouts to get good deals on beads.

“I don’t like plastic,” he said. “I like something from the earth — gems and crystals.”

When Sister Jane McCarthy, OSF, whom Fr. O’Melia worked with while serving in Washington, went to Arizona, he asked her to pick up turquoise stones. He used those stones for special rosaries. One went to a bishop in Nicaragua where St. Mary’s is working with its sister parish.

Many of the rosaries are for sale at the rectory today. He has made rosaries for auctions, bazaars and country stores in Fort Madison, Washington and Davenport.

But Fr. O’Melia also sends rosaries to missions in different parts of the world. He sent a package through Our Lady of the Rosary Makers to a mission in India. “I got a letter back from a priest saying how much he appreciated the rosaries.”

Currently he is getting a box full of rosaries ready to send to Nicaragua.

He doesn’t do it to make money. The money from the sale of his rosaries goes back to the parish.

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