Jack DeSantis: 30,000 Rosaries …and counting

April 2014 Posted in Other
Jack DeSantis has made thousands of rosaries, many with little Hubble at his side. Photo by Brenna Wiegand

Jack DeSantis has made thousands of rosaries, many with little Hubble at his side. Photo by Brenna Wiegand

By Brenna Wiegand

Most people would agree – 30,000 rosaries is a lot of Hail Mary prayers.

The Catholic rosaries Jack DeSantis makes are in the hands of troops that served in Iraq and those of Mexican villagers.

DeSantis makes the rosaries from his chair in the little house he’s lived in 30 years. He’s got the TV on “for background noise” and his little dog Hubble sprawled nearby. It’s just down the road from Silverton High School where DeSantis was a 20-year custodian. Now in his 20th year of rosary making, he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

The youthful 67-year-old bikes everywhere, greeting people with his beaming smile and ready conversation, rarely leaving home before dropping a few rosaries into his pocket.

DeSantis is a lifelong member of St. Paul Catholic Church in Silverton. He attended the school it used to have through the eighth grade. His wife Irene died in her sleep seven years ago on their 26th anniversary. He dearly misses her.

When DeSantis was 5, his father died. He spent time with his grandfather, Luigi DeSantis, who once made a rosary using apples, wire and chain for a shrine for Mary at Mount Angel Abbey. He remembers gazing up at it in wonder and marveling at the other sights at the monastery.

These days, DeSantis makes most of his rosaries with hook, cord, knots and beads. He can turn out 10 an hour – once did 100 in a day. The wire and chain models take an hour and are sold to raise funds for materials.

For the US troops, DeSantis makes all-black, all-plastic rosaries, right down to the crucifix.

“The military didn’t want metal as it could be detected by the enemy,” he explained.

He started sending much more colorful versions to Mexico via Helping Hands Medical Missions and was shortly thereafter urged to come along and bring the rosaries himself.

“It was my first experience out of the country and I enjoyed it,” he said. “I sat at a little table in the courtyard of the medical clinic making them and handing them out to the people coming in. One year I took 1,200 rosaries down there and they went in three days.”

During that week, he said, people flock from all over the country, no longer solely for medical care but for the free rosaries.

Folks even bring their precious, old broken rosaries for him to fix.

At home, he’ll get secondhand rosaries in the mail, adding to the number he is able to send out.

He often teaches kids the craft at church. Last year he was asked to show some kids at Silverton First Christian.

“In about an hour, three 9-year-olds had made 24 rosaries,” he said. “They want to do it again.”

Alas, as any crafter knows, supplies don’t come cheap.

It was Irene’s idea to raise rosary money by recycling cans and bottles. Now it’s gotten to where people just drop them off by his garage.

“A few years ago we raised $1,500 in six months just by word of mouth,” DeSantis said.

He also raises funds selling the more intricate models at St. Paul’s Catholic Church and the Elks Club’s first Saturday flea market (October through May). For every $30 rosary, $10 goes to Elks Club youth activities.

“I really enjoy the work, especially during the winter,” he said. It’s what he settles into at home after he usually begins his day with coffee and a few hours washing dishes at the Elks Club and walking his bright-eyed pup.

As for saying the rosary, he said, that’s best done when you’re not trying to make one. For that is a time of reflection and prayer.

The Rosary
rosaryThe rosary has evolved over 1,200 years of Catholic history. Early on a pocketful of little pebbles were used to count prayers, then a rope of beads. This universal tool for Catholic prayer resembles a necklace – but is generally not treated as such – and includes 59 beads, a crucifix and a centerpiece.

Each bead is a prescribed prayer: 53 for Hail Mary, six for Our Father, the Apostle’s Creed and a few single prayers. As each is said, the hand advances to the next bead, in succession from the crucifix, around the rosary and back to the Cross. During each of the five “decades” of the rosary (a decade being 10 Hail Marys), it is customary to meditate upon one of the 20 “mysteries,” categorized as Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious, examples being the Nativity; the wedding at Cana; Jesus’ crowning with thorns and the Resurrection.

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