A Strong Rosary Helps Give Soldiers Strength
Sgt. 1st Class Frank Ristaino invented what a growing number of soldiers consider the mother of all rosaries—the Ranger Rosary, an ultra-tough model that comes in a variety of military colors.
by Wayne Laugesen | Source:
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Machine guns, killer knives, grenades and combat boots. These are the tools of modern combat warriors.
“And rosary beads,” says Sgt. 1st Class Frank Ristaino, a former Marine and a recruiter for the Maryland National Guard.
“Rosaries are readily available to any soldier in the military,” Ristaino said. “Just about any military chaplain hands them out.”
Unfortunately, many of the standard rosaries distributed by chaplains don’t hold up so well in combat situations, because of weak strings or chains. They come in pastel pinks and blues, which clash against the tough exteriors of Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and trench-hardened Marines.
So Ristaino invented what a growing number of soldiers consider the mother of all rosaries—the Ranger Rosary, an ultra-tough model that comes in a variety of military colors. The beads are strung on what the military classifies as 550 cord: a tough, lightweight rope that connects soldiers to their parachutes.
The handmade rosaries are popular among soldiers, and military chaplains are requesting them faster than volunteers participating in the Ranger Rosary project can turn them out.
“While we have considerable numbers of other rosaries that have been very generously donated to us, I would like to assure a supply of the Ranger Rosaries here at Kirkuk, if possible, due to their advantages for the combat conditions in which our troops, especially our soldiers, find themselves,” wrote Father Pat Travers, a chaplain at Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northeastern Iraq, in a formal request for more Ranger Rosaries.
Ristaino, a father of 11, was inspired to invent the Ranger Rosary while attending the Marine Corps officer candidate school in 1985. He and other candidates were learning to “keep pace” as part of a land navigation course.
‘Catholics Ought To Be Good’
Each soldier was issued a pace-keeping contraption that was made out of heavy-duty plastic beads strung on parachute cord. After pacing 100 meters, each soldier would slide one of nine beads from the top of the string to the bottom.
“The instructor said, ‘You Catholics ought to be good at this,’ making a joke about rosary beads. Then it struck me,” Ristaino recalled. “Yes, heavy-duty beads and 550 cord would make good rosaries for combat zones.”
He sat on the idea until the late 1990s, when several of his children began learning to make mission rosaries under the instruction of volunteers from the Legion of Mary.
Ristaino got most of his children involved in making Ranger Rosaries, and many of their fellow students at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis joined in. Catholic elementary-school students began making them, as did young adults who attended Theology on Tap. The Rosary Guild at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis began coordinating the rosary-making efforts of various groups, and soon several hundred rosaries were made and shipped to military chaplains for distribution in Bosnia.
Today, parish organizations, schoolchildren, rosary guilds and a variety of other Catholic organizations and individual volunteers throughout the United States are making hundreds of rosaries for distribution in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“These soldiers don’t just get a rosary, but a prayer partner as well,” said Kathy Feddor, 63, of Annapolis, who heads up the Ranger rosary ministry. She explained that people who make the rosaries also pray every day for the troops who receive them.
Feddor estimates that volunteers have raised money for and produced about 15,000 Ranger Rosaries by hand for American troops. Each heavy-duty rosary costs about $1 to produce, she said.
Pat Evans, 70, was one Legion of Mary volunteer who taught Ristaino’s children to make rosaries.
“A lot of our soldiers in the Middle East say they almost feel forgotten, and it makes a huge difference when they get one of these rosaries,” Evans said. “If a soldier is fearful and has this rosary on his presence, he can ask Our Lady to ask the Lord for protection.”
Ristaino says the rosary is popular among soldiers for one reason.
“The strength you get from praying the rosary is remarkable,” Ristaino said. “People in the military learn that pretty quickly.”
That’s true, agreed Father Bill Devine, a military chaplain in Iraq.
“As I travel around, celebrating Mass or talking with Marines, I see the rosary hanging inside their vehicles, tanks and living quarters,” Father Devine wrote to Ranger Rosary volunteers. “They have it hung over their racks or on their flak jackets. Many wear them around their necks. They are an ever-constant reminder of the power of Our Lady’s intercession and protection on these young men.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.