When Barbara Vilen challenged small groups of her sixth-grade religion students to devise creative ways to present the rosary, she received everything from a rosary made out of carved wooden beads to one assembled out of matchbox cars.
But what really bowled over Vilen, the coordinator of religious education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Belle Chasse, was a student-made rosary that had been woven entirely out of rubber bands.
“They made it on their own, with no directions, no guides. I was in total awe,” said Vilen, who was so moved she recruited the group of five students – Charlie Burt, Daniel Gonzales, Trevor Logrande, Thomas Prados and Jace Weileman – to teach Our Lady of Perpetual Help fifth graders how to make the special rosaries.
They did so during a recent class period and had no problem gathering the necessary supplies. The craft of rubber-banding is all the rage in elementary schools, so virtually every fifth grader already owned the tools of the trade: a craft box filled with various colors of rubber bands; a plastic loom; and a crochet needle – to assist in the intricate process of weaving the tiny bands, loop by loop, across the loom.
“We already knew how to make a bracelet (out of rubber bands), so we thought if we could do that, we could make a bigger bracelet into a rosary,” said Trevor of his group’s response to the rosary-making challenge.
During the teaching session, the sixth graders told their pupils that making the rubber-band rosaries was much more than a fun craft project; it was a unique way to honor Mary, the Mother of God. They said Father William O’Riordan, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, had blessed their rosaries, which had given them a heightened place of prominence in their prayer lives.
“(Making it) helped me learn my rosary because it’s color-coordinated,” Trevor said. “You can see the Apostles’ Creed and all the other prayers, so it’s easier to know the rosary.”
As an accompaniment to their tangible rosaries, the team created a poster to help their schoolmates meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the Garden; The Scourging at the Pillar; The Crowning with Thorns; The Carrying of the Cross; and The Crucifixion.
Vilen said the fifth- and sixth-grade teaching session was a natural collaboration. The two grades pair up to lead Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s two annual Living Rosaries: one in October that celebrates the month of the rosary; and a mission rosary, offered during the Blessed Mother’s birthday month of May.
“It’s a very long prayer, but they handle it extremely well because I teach them that it’s more than just a prayer; it’s a way of living their faith and a testimony to Mary,” Vilen said. “We don’t always take enough quiet time in our lives for prayer. So the rosary is a way of just relaxing and letting it all come together. It allows you to both watch (others in prayer) and participate in prayer.”
As for the craft of rubber-banding, it seems it will be a fixture at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School for years to come. Beginning at about third grade, students can be seen carrying their looms around campus and making all sorts of rubbery novelties in their spare time – alligators, pandas, turtles, reindeer, mustaches, smiley faces, raindrops, starbursts, candy canes and even “Minions” – the cylinder-shaped characters from the movie “Despicable Me.”
“You can make some really cool things with rubber bands,” said Charlie, one of the sixth-grade rosary teachers. “It makes me feel great whenever I finish something hard. You accomplish stuff.”