Sr. Joanne, who is celebrating her 60th jubilee as a Franciscan sister this year, is retired and lives at the order’s motherhouse. When she moved there in 1996, a fellow Franciscan, Sr. Denise Krouse, introduced her to the art of making rosaries from roses and asked for some help.
“I said, ‘I don’t think I could do that,’ because there’s a lot to this,” Sr. Joanne recalled. “She kind of begged me and so I learned a couple of techniques.”
Soon after, Sr. Denise passed away, leaving about 75 unfinished rosaries. Sr. Joanne felt compelled to complete them. “Me, with my meager techniques, I gathered the sisters together and they helped me finish them,” she said.
Not only did Sr. Joanne finish the 75 rosaries, she mastered the creative process and turned it into a pastime. She even takes orders for rose petal rosaries, but because the process is lengthy and meticulous, Sr. Joanne only makes them upon request.
“Just the work (of freezing and grinding the rose petals, transforming them into a clay-like substance and rolling them into beads) is quite a chore,” she said. Rose petals are stripped from the flower stem, placed in a resealable plastic bag and stored in a freezer.
“I take them out every two or three weeks and mush them with my hands. It takes about two to three months to get (the rose petals) to the proper consistency,” said Sr. Joanne. “It becomes like a mud ball.”
She wears plastic gloves to roll the beads. “Rolling beads is the thing that takes the longest. There are 59 beads in a rosary and so you can imagine how many times you have to roll those little beads,” she said. “It’s quite messy. If you wear gloves it’s not too bad.” After rolling the material into small beads, she runs a pin through them, sets them aside and lets them dry for several days.
On the bed in her convent apartment, Sr. Joanne assembles all of the materials needed to create the rosaries. Small containers hold various chains and pins that attach to the rose beads. Other boxes hold crucifixes and medals that complete the prayer beads. Two sets of pliers are used to bend the chains and pins into shape.
When the rosaries are completed, Sr. Joanne uses hair spray to give them a special protective coating.
“I put hair spray on them because it brightens them,” she said. “If they are processed just right, it’s hard to break them.”
Sr. Joanne explained that people request rosaries with roses from special occasions, such as those from a loved one’s funeral. It is a unique way of remembering a loved one, she said.
Editor’s note: Sr. Joanne is no longer making the rose pedal rosaries. However, she encourages people to contact Barbara Bowman, who does make them. Bowman can be reached at (920) 362-9021. Cost per rosary is $50 plus shipping.