Making rosaries for half a century

Franciscan Sister Mary Adella Blonigen of Little Falls has been bending wire and connecting beads for 50 years. While jewelry making thrives on variety, in both materials and forms, it has no appeal to Sister Mary Adella’s methods and products. She’s worked hard to perfect her skills in assembling strings of 10 beads each—called decades- and then connecting them in traditional ways. Sister Mary Adella is a rosary maker. “Sister Felicia Kroll helped me get the materials and showed me how to do it,” she says of her mentor when she was a young nun and just getting started in making the prayer beads. “I thought my first one was perfect, but Sister Felicia was very particular. She said no. I had to open it up and do it again. I’m glad she was particular.” Sister Mary Adella’s religious life has taken her from Little Falls to Duluth, Osakis and Waite Park to Flensburg, working in hospitality and food services, the altar bread department, and assisting the elderly of her order. Throughout the years, no matter where she was, her free time was spent making rosaries. She hasn’t kept count, but 50 years of making them adds up to thousands. “I work on them just about every day, except Sundays,” she says, though she admits there were some busy years that didn’t allow her the time to do many. Now, approaching 86, she likes to stretch out in a recliner, between 5:30 and 7:00 in the evenings, with her wire cutters, needle nose pliers and boxes of beads on her lap. A small table nearby holds the miscellaneous parts and pieces. “I use nickel-silver wire. It’s durable and nice,” she says, though she will make rosaries with silver wire if someone wants it. Faceted beads, all of the same size, are easiest to work with but Sister Mary Adella also uses other materials. She’s taken apart wooden beaded car seat covers to make large rosaries. Inexpensive mission beads are used to make rosaries to be donated to mission causes. Her most unusual rosaries are made from the seeds of Job’s tears, otherwise known as “tear grass” or coix lacrhima-jobi. The seeds are very hard, naturally have holes through the middles and vary from shiny light gray to almost black. Rounded on one end and tapering to a point on the other, the seeds are best positioned to go in the same direction around the rosary. Sister Mary Adella further refines her designs by changing the direction halfway so that when the loop of the rosary hangs from the crucifix, all of the seed beads go in the same direction. The Franciscan Sisters have grown Job’s tears in their garden and succeeded in harvesting five ice-cream pails of them nearly 30 years ago. That supply was used up long ago. Now, a man in Richmond brings Sister Mary Adella a gallon of the seeds every two years. Job’s tears are particularly appropriate as rosary beads since they are reminders of the Biblical Job’s trials and the tears he shed in suffering. Sister Mary Adella estimates that with planting, picking each seed one by one, sorting for uniform size and color, and assembling, each Job’s tears rosary takes about four hours to make. Sister Mary Adella’s rosaries are sold in the Franciscan gift shop. She also gives them away to people who otherwise wouldn’t have one. She has made 32 rosaries each of the last two years for participants in the Franciscan Girls’ Camp. A devoted prayer of the rosary, Sister Mary Adella encourages others to do the same. Sister Mary Adella also cleans and fixes rosaries, often using toothpaste to remove decades of grime on the decades of beads. She re-chains with wire but doesn’t get into stringing and knotting. “Glued ones are hard to fix,” she says. She’s fixed rosaries for people as far away as Florida, Arizona, New York and beyond. Adella Blonigen was born at Spring Hill and lived in the Lake Henry and St. Martin areas. She went to parochial school for four years. It was during the Great Depression and times were tough. She graduated from the eighth grade and says that only people with the intention of becoming professionals went on to high school and college. “God called me to be here,” she says. She grew up in “an all Benedictine territory, but with three aunts who were Franciscan sisters and my parents Franciscan as Third Order members, it was reasonable that I would be a Franciscan, too.” She wanted to be a sister from the age of eight. She notes that next year – 2013 – will mark 100 years of Blonigens in the Franciscan religious community. Sister Mary Adella didn’t find it particularly difficult to take a vow of poverty since she was already familiar with it. She didn’t even buy a rosary on her trip to Rome and Assisi in 1983. “I have so many rosaries, I didn’t need one,” she said, though she did buy a few crosses. Sister Mary Adella always carries a rosary and uses it frequently. “I pray every day to have the eyesight, hands and mind to keep making rosaries.”

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