APPLETON — Sally and Louis Gerarden have prayed the rosary thousands of times, but hearing the reverence in Sally’s voice when she leads the rosary at Mass with Louis by her side, a person may think she had just recently discovered the joy of this devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Born in Benton, located in the Diocese of La Crosse, Gerarden was one of 12 children in her family. She attended two years of public high school and then transferred to Aquinas High School in La Crosse. “We had to go to daily Mass at Aquinas,” said Gerarden. That was instrumental in deepening her faith.
After school, she took a job in La Crosse, where she had the fortune to be able to continue to attend daily Mass. She met Louis at a dance at the local VFW hall. This was during the Korean Conflict and Louis was serving in the Army at that time. The two got married on June 12, 1954, had 12 children, and raised a niece as well.
Sally wasn’t brought up in a family that said the rosary every day, but when she and Louis were first married they lived with his parents and Sally said the rosary daily with her mother-in-law. However, that wasn’t always possible with the busyness of raising a large family and then going back to work full time at Aid Association for Lutherans when their youngest child was in first grade.
True devotion to the rosary came in the 1980s when reported apparitions of the Blessed Mother began in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia.
“When Medjugorje happened, I dedicated myself to the Blessed Mother and I started saying the rosary every day,” said Sally.
After she retired from AAL in 1987 and Louis retired from the City of Appleton Fire Department, they started going to Mass every day. At the time they were living in the Mackville area and were members of St. Edward Parish in Mackville. Sally was an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, a minister of the word, and led the rosary at daily Mass.
Countless rosaries were recited when the couple joined another ministry called Shield of Roses. “We prayed at the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. We did that for 15 to 20 years,” noted Sally.
In May of 1994, Sally became a Secular Franciscan, which was another way to live out her devotion to the Blessed Mother. One of their rules states in part, “The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for (the Blessed Mother) by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.”
When the Gerardens moved to Appleton in 2006, they joined Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish where Louis’ brother and his wife were members. Sally volunteered to help lead the rosary after the morning weekday Masses on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 30 minutes before the first service on Sunday mornings. “Because I had done the rosary at St. Edward’s, it was natural for me.”
Sally and Louis continue to go to Mass every day. Monday and Tuesday they attend evening Mass at Sacred Heart, morning Mass at St. Thomas More Church on Tuesdays and St. Bernadette Church on Saturday morning. “We say the rosary every day so if they don’t do it at church, we say the rosary at home,” Sally said.
The rosary is more than a set of prescribed prayers, noted Sally. “I have deep feeling towards it because I’m devoted to the Sacred Heart and to Mary. The rosary has a lot of meaning and covers all the mysteries. You think about it when you say it. You think about the life of Christ when you say the rosary.”
Both Sally and Louis encourage other people to embrace the devotion they have to the rosary, but the request is not quite as simple as it sounds, said Sally. “It’s hard to tell people to say the rosary because it’s meditation over and over. But I’ve said, ‘If you’re devoted to the Blessed Mother, you will say the rosary.’”