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Saturday, March 31, 2001

The beadin' path

By ELIZABETH BROGAN, Portland Press Herald
News Assistant

Copyright 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Walking on a treadmill one day last summer, Julie Walsh of Windham thought that if she'd had her rosary beads with her, she could have said her prayers while on the treadmill.

"I thought that if it was something stuck on my wrist, I could just pull it down and pray," said Walsh, a mother of three. From that simple idea an industry has risen and more than $17,000 has been raised by and for the students at St. Joseph's Parish School in Portland, where Walsh's son Coleman is in first grade.

After spending several afternoons learning basic bead designs at Caravan Beads on Forest Avenue, Walsh presented her idea for prayer bracelets to the school's Home and School Association early last fall.

Her pitch: Buy the beads wholesale, teach the students how to string them, and sell the trendy bracelets for $5 each.

Walsh said that by incorporating the bracelets into the study of the rosary, the school could inject some fun into religious education classes. In October, Walsh and a few other mothers took the beads into the classrooms.

"The kids were so excited," she said. "In two or three days we had about 300 bracelets. The older kids could make four or five in 15 minutes."

A workshop was set up in the Father Hayes Center, which serves as the school gymnasium. Soon, bracelets were the trend and the hobby to have. "It caught on and was very fashionable, but very meaningful," Walsh said.

"There are 11 big beads those are Hail Marys," said Ariana Muca, a fourth-grader. "The little beads are for decoration." Each bracelet also has a charm-like cross.

Walsh said the bracelets are not just for Catholics. In fact, people of many faiths, including Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i and Muslim, pray with beads.

As the bracelet inventory grew, selling them at school was no longer enough. Soon, tables were set up after Mass at the various Catholic churches the students attend. Then the kids appeared on the TV news, and in The Church World, the statewide Catholic newspaper.

Walsh sold 60 bracelets in 10 minutes at a Catherine McCauley High School reunion in October, and more than 500 were snatched up at the Maine Crafter's Fair. At a booth at the Maine Mall, more than 1,000 were sold over two weekends.

"Although we were making money," Walsh said, "it just wasn't about that at all. It was about the good that was coming from the bracelets."

Some of that good came in the form of cards and letters, like the note the kids received from one woman who had been told she had cancer just before receiving the bracelet. She traveled to Philadelphia to see a specialist, but when she arrived she was told the cancer had disappeared.

Several weeks ago, St. Joseph's School sent a package to the Vatican, including bracelets and letters from each class. Lisa Hatch's fourth-grade class invited Pope John Paul II to visit. The students are anxiously awaiting a reply.

Between Oct. 1 and mid-December, 3,500 bracelets sold for $5 each. What the school will buy with all that money is still undecided. There has been talk of computer equipment, field trips and new books. Hatch said any purchases will be "child-oriented."

Some of the proceeds have been spent already, including a donation to a family whose mother was diagnosed recently with a terminal illness.

News Assistant Elizabeth Brogan can be contacted at 791-6361 or

©Copyright 2001, Portland Press Herald

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