Faith in Bloom
April 6, 1999
by Christine McConVille – Sun Correspondent
TEWKSBURY – Pauline Barbieri had no intention of becoming a full-time rosary maker.
“I was saying my dad’s rosary, and something came over me” says Barbieri. “I got warm all over.”
When the Tewksbury woman asked a Sister of Charity to teach her to make the religious prayer beads, Barbieri was told that only nuns could learn the almost-lost-art.
Two decades later, she operates a successful rosary-making business at her Rogers Street home and believes her work is a divine calling. “After about a year, this nun called me. She said she had done some research and that she thought she was the last nun doing this, so if I wanted to learn…”
Almost one year later, she made her first set of daughter’s bridal bouquet. “I asked if I should advertise and she said ‘no.’ She said that there will come a day when you will have more work than you can handle.”
Orders for the $50 rosaries now come from around the world. Business is so heavy that it takes 12 weeks to fill an order.
“The Blessed Mother meant for me to do this,” says Barbieri, 61.
“The Blessed Mother has run this business from day one.”
The beads are made from dried and then crushed flowers from wedding and funeral bouquets. Her kitchen table is flush with reds, pinks, and purples. Nearby, bag of rosaries and crushed flower petals are neatly labeled.
Barbieri rolls the ground flower petals into perfectly shaped beads. Once cured, she puts silver caps on the top and bottom and a metal post through them. Her 87-year-old mother helps with the delicate silver chains that link the 53 rosary beads -six “Our Father” beads, a “Blessed Mary” medal, and a cross.
Barbieri’s brightly colored beads are legendary. She made beads for the Kennedy family after matriarch Rose Kennedy died. A pair made for a Reading couple was blessed by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.
Religious pilgrims bring her silver-chained beads to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, where at least 10 rosaries have been transformed. “As they are saying the rosary, (the silver chains and caps) turned to gold,”she said.
As Barbieri rolls the bead, her dusty hands covered with floral frost, she sometimes thinks of the people connected to the beads. “It’s a lot of heartache. We make beads (in memory of) still-born babies, teen-agers who commit suicide,” she says.
Saddened by the human tragedies, she is happier to be part of the joyful weddings and baptisms.