Karen Adams, Special to The Catholic Virginian

“And take . . .  the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Eph 6:17

Twice a month, a men’s group at Holy Name of Mary, Bedford, gathers to build weapons — handmade rosaries designed for men.

The St. Dominic’s Dagger is a small rosary modeled on a military pace counter, a tracking device of beads on a cord for soldiers to measure distances while on foot. It holds 15 movable wooden beads on woven parachute cord with a Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Mother attached in the middle and a crucifix at the end.

Last year, parishioner and former paratrooper R.D. Ward wondered if there might be a way to pray the rosary during his busy workdays, despite interruptions. He looked at his old Army pace counter, thinking its interactive design might work for a rosary, allowing him to stop, mark his place and resume praying later. 

Around the same time, his brother-in-law, evangelization chair Paul Roderique, had been praying the rosary more often after reading “Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon” by Father Donald Calloway. But he also didn’t always have time to pray it all at once. 

“With all that’s going on in the world these days, it seems there is an even greater need for all of us to be praying the rosary daily,” Roderique said. “But it can be hard if you can’t find 20 to 30 minutes at a time.” 

From counting paces to counting prayers

Knowing this was a common concern, especially among other men, he mentioned it to Ward, who showed him his pace counter and said he’d been thinking the same thing. 

“We both had the same idea, and we both thought the pace counter would make a great rosary,” Roderique said. Also, it would easily fit in one’s palm or pocket.

Although they wondered about tinkering with a sacred, traditional design, they gained confidence when, in their research, they learned about similar “tenner” rosaries of 10 beads or knots that have been used for centuries. 

Eventually Ward turned his pace counter into a rosary, using knotted beads, a Miraculous Medal from his daughter and a crucifix from his father-in-law. 

The design was simple, straight and strong — different from more delicate, feminine rosaries — and would appeal to men, they thought. 

At the next gathering of their monthly men’s ministry, of which they are co-leaders, they presented their idea as a spiritual activity. The Brotherhood of Catholic Men, with about a dozen members, liked the idea and decided on wooden beads for durability on the tough cord, with tight rings on the medal and cross.

“It’s not going to fall apart on you,” said parishioner and diaconate candidate Tony Rivera.

They also spoke to their pastor, Father Sal Anonuevo, who supported the idea. 

It still sanctifies the entire day, by praying it in parts, he said. 

“Priests are used to praying throughout the day, with the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours,” he explained. “This way everyone can pray all day long, and it constantly brings your mind back to God.”

He suggested they introduce the project to the parish in October, the month of the rosary. 

“The rosary has a calming effect, and the whole world needs that now,” Father Anonuevo said. “And Mary always leads us to her Son.”

’Weapon in a spiritual war’

After buying supplies, the group met and eventually made several dozen. 

“There were lots of broken fingernails,” Roderique said. 

The name comes from St. Dominic, who was first given the image of the rosary by the Virgin Mary in an apparition. And a dagger is a small sword, Ward explained. 

“You use it when your enemy is up close, when all else has failed. What better weapon to have in a spiritual war?”

The group has made about 150 rosaries. They come with light or dark wooden beads, or both; colored “paracord” in green and white, camouflage or fuchsia; and a crown-of-thorns or St. Benedict crucifix. 

Each sells for $20, with all profits — over $1,000 so far — donated to parish ministries.

“But the purpose is not to make sales, but to spread the word about the importance and power of the rosary,” Roderique said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic has kept the group from meeting in person, they meet online via Zoom to assemble the daggers. They always pray the rosary as they work. 

“Men like to build decks and houses, and here we are building these small rosaries,” Rivera added. “Men praying the rosary — what a beautiful thing.”

The process of making them is holy in itself, said Ward. 

“They are made in prayer. We are the Body of Christ, joined in this way to glorify God.”

Tool for evangelization 

It’s also a natural tool for evangelization. Parishioner Jason Lewia often wears one around his wrist, prompting Catholics and non-Catholics to ask about it. He’s happy to explain and show how it’s used. 

“Sometimes I just give it to them,” he said. “Their reaction, even for Protestants, is so joyful.”

Although designed for men, the St. Dominic’s Daggers are popular with women as well. Some buy them for themselves; others give them as gifts.

On a visit from her home in Colorado, Kathy Dieringer, sister of parishioner Michelle Steenson, bought a rosary for a World War II veteran in her parish suffering from ALS. 

“He got tears in his eyes when she gave it to him,” said Steenson. “He said, ‘I know what this is and exactly how to use it.’ His reaction just touched her to the core.”

The project has enriched the prayer lives of the rosary-makers as much as it has others’.

“The rosary is a blessing in my life; it keeps me grounded in prayer,” said Ward, who still uses the worn prototype made from his old pace counter. 

“It’s changed my prayer life, and I feel more engaged now,” added Rivera. “The more people are praying the rosary, the more glory to God.”

For more information: tbocm.com.