Decades of Faith

Dec. 18, 2003
Decades of Faith
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Neighborhood rosary group celebrates 25 years of coming together in prayer

A group of women living in Syracuse have discovered a way to forge faith and friendships: praying the rosary.

“The rosary brought us together,” said Helen Day, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Church in Syracuse. “We have found strength in prayer and in each other.” Day helped found the “neighborhood rosary group,” as the women call themselves. It is comprised of approximately 25 women from eight parishes, all who clear space on their calendars on Tuesday mornings at 10 o’clock to make room for an hour or so of prayer and socializing. The women take turns hosting the weekly rosary group in their homes. Martha Schaefer, a parishioner at Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse, joined the rosary group five years ago when she moved back to Syracuse after living in Cazenovia for 33 years. “It was like coming home,” she said of the group. She found a way to share her faith among a new circle of friends. “We are women whose paths don’t necessarily cross outside of the group, but praying the rosary brings us together,” said Schaefer.

The group celebrated 25 years of coming together this year as Pope John Paul II marked his 25th anniversary as pontiff. The rosary group stemmed from a volunteer project that Day and three other women, all neighbors, were collaborating on for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. The four women met weekly to make rag dolls to sell at the hospital’s gift shop, said Day. When the project ended, they wanted to stay together and decided to replace one good deed with another. “As long as we would be meeting we thought, ‘Why not pray the rosary?’” Day said. Word started to spread of the rosary group and it began to grow, said Day. Gradually grandmothers and mothers joined the four women. Before Day knew it, four people grew to over 20 people. Although this number often makes for crowded living rooms and more refreshments, Day is pleased. “It is gratifying to see how the group has grown,” she said. “These are the things that are the most important in life –– faith, family and friends.”

Bernice Buck, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse, joined the group shortly after its conception. Over the years, the group has melded into a diverse group of women who share in their devotion to the holy rosary, said Buck. “We are German, Irish and Italian women who all make up a big melting pot,” she said. “From different backgrounds we have become good friends.” The group of friends was a support system for her, Buck said, when her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. “Their prayers and friendship helped me to get through that time,” Buck said. Simple but profound, the rosary is an important prayer. “The Blessed Mother intercedes for us when we pray the rosary. When we pray we are also thanking her for helping us,” said Day. Before they begin, the women mention any special intentions, said Genevieve Vavonese, a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei Church in Syracuse and Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse, where her son Father Charles Vavonese serves as parish administrator. According to Vavonese, the group prays for many things, such as “faith, family and friends and an increase in vocations.”

Most importantly, the women are praying for peace. “When we have peace within ourselves, our families and our communities, then we will have world peace,” said Day. In addition to praying together, most of the women have a private practice of reciting the rosary. But the group believes it is the power of coming together that strengthens its purpose. “There is nothing like praying as a group,” said Buck. “Our Blessed Mother is among us always, but especially when we gather with others,” remarked Day. “The most beautiful thing is praying together.” She encourages more people, especially families, to pray the rosary together. “The family that prays together stays together,” Day said. As the women journey from house to house, a statue of the Virgin Mary and a crucifix travel with them. Both images remain in the group’s presence as the rosary is recited. The mounted crucifix was a gift from Msgr. Eugene Yennock, pastor of St. Daniel Church in Syracuse, who has a special relationship with the rosary group. “In 1983 he gave us the crucifix and asked us to pray for vocations, which we have done every Tuesday since,” Day said, adding that every October, Msgr. Yennock celebrates a Mass at her home for the deceased women of the rosary group.

Day is the only one of the four founders of the rosary group who is still participating today. The three other women have either passed away our moved out of the area, Day said. The women in the rosary group see Day as an example of Christ. Her faithfulness inspires and motivates them. “In the vernacular of our young people, I think she would be called ‘amazing,’” Schaefer said. “She is a very saintly person who started something wonderful.”

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