SHERWOOD — About 15 years ago, Larry Gorniak was driving along Highway 151 south of Stockbridge at night and spotted an illuminated object on the side of a barn. It became clear what the object was when he noticed the cross at the bottom: a rosary.
He immediately was inspired to create one for himself.
A few weeks later, while driving past Family Traditions, a religious goods store in Pipe, Wis., Gorniak noticed one of the rosaries hanging from the building. “I stopped in and said, ‘Where do you get these?’”
The owner, Cathy Wertschnig, told him that someone from the Knights of Columbus in Door County made them. “I said, ‘Well, they are a bit too big. I’m looking for something that could fit on a house.’ I looked at how they were made — with an iron bar, which they shape.”
Knowing he didn’t have the materials for such a project, he decided he would need to improvise.
Gorniak, at the time a salesman at L & S Electric in Appleton, had access to scrap copper. “I initially took a piece of copper and formed a rosary, brazed and soldered it together and found some Christmas lights, the old-fashioned ones with big bulbs,” he said. “I taped them on the best I could and put that up on the house.”
Proud of his accomplishment, Gorniak thought he would make more. However, he needed to find other material for the rosary. “I just forgot about it for a while … and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all of a sudden I got an idea,” he said. It led him to a local big box retail store.
Instead of metal for the rosary, he chose one-half-inch C-PVC tubing, which is more flexible than standard PVC. “It starts out with a 10-foot piece and then I buy the couplings for the circle and cross,” he said. Once the tubing is connected to the couplings, giving it the shape of a rosary, Gorniak adds lights.
“The next thing was to find a set of lights that would work,” he said. “Until Christmastime came around, I wasn’t having much success because there aren’t very many lights out in the store.”
The rosaries require a set with 70 lights, which include one for each Hail Mary and Our Father, as well as lights for the cross. Gorniak said he began using multicolor lights for the rosaries, with red for the 10 “Hail Mary” beads and white for the “Our Father” beads. Matching up the lights “got to be kind of a hassle,” so Gorniak eventually settled on one color of lights.
One key to his success has been an ability to adapt. When a problem or shortage of materials would arise, “all of a sudden I would get an idea and I would change something and make it a little bit easier,” he said.
Since making his first rosary — which measured about 5 feet high by 2 feet wide — Gorniak said he has created between 40 to 50 of them. Most have been given to area churches, both for their display or for use as auction items.
Gorniak said he’s made rosaries for churches in Berlin, Combined Locks, Greenville, Hilbert, Howard, Little Chute, Mackville, Sherwood and Stockbridge.
After retiring in 2015, Gorniak gave up making the illuminated rosaries. He and his wife, Penny, moved to Tennessee, but decided to move back to Sherwood after they found themselves making numerous family visits back to Wisconsin.
A few months ago, Gorniak received a call from a friend in Berlin who owned one of his rosaries. Someone saw the rosary and wanted to purchase two of them. That got Gorniak back into his basement workroom. What he discovered this time was that LED Christmas lights have replaced the incandescent mini lights. The LED lights use around 90 percent less electricity and last much longer.
“I came across these new lights and I said, ‘If I am going to get back into this lighted rosary thing, this is the way to go,’” said Gorniak. “The technology in these lights has improved and these new ones are just more brilliant in lighting than the other ones.”
Gorniak said each rosary takes him about 16 hours to complete. “I don’t ever get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to make it and finish in two days.’ There are parts that need to be made and glued and dried,” he said. “I do a couple of decades, light half of it and walk away.”
According to Gorniak, his rosary-making hobby stems from a love for the Blessed Mother and the rosary. He and Penny often lead recitation of the rosary before the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass in Sherwood, a service they have been offering for three or four years, he said.
“My favorite saint is our heavenly mother, Blessed Mary,” he said. “We have a devotion to the rosary. We didn’t always have that, but now we certainly do. Like I said, when I saw this (first) rosary, it was just this idea to make one for myself, to be able to put it on the house, because I like the rosary.”
Devotion to the rosary extends to his illuminated rosaries in a special way. They come with a lifetime guarantee. “I would give them to the church and say as long as I’m alive, I will maintain this for you, period, for nothing,” he said.
“I enjoy doing it and my wife says, I hate to get rid of any,” Gorniak added. “They are so beautiful. They are all like one of my kids. They really are nice. I am happy to make them for people who appreciate them and who are going to display them some place.”
Churches or individuals interested in learning more about the illuminated rosaries can contact Gorniak by text at (920) 540-9696 or by email at [email protected].