During the month of May, we especially honor Mary and her devotion to our Lord. While prayer beads have been used throughout the centuries by various religions, some believe the Blessed Virgin Mary gave us the prayer of the rosary back in the 13th century when she appeared to St. Dominic. The rosary assists us in growing a deeper appreciation for the mysteries of our Lord’s life and the witness of our Blessed Mother Mary. The mysteries help us to unite our life more closely to our Lord’s. Today, I’m sharing the story of a parishioner at my church who has a particular connection to Mary and the rosary.
Sharon Zahner began making sterling silver rosaries as a 12-year-old in a rural town that had a small Catholic community. She saw her grandmother making rosaries and wanted to learn how to make them too. Throughout grade school and high school, Zahner continued making rosaries and delivering them to the First Communicants in her town each year.
After high school, Zahner focused on her college studies and did not make rosaries as often. When she moved to Jacksonville, FL with her husband, she saw in the church bulletin where a nun needed folks to help her make rosaries for missions overseas. Zahner signed up to help. She encouraged her mother to help her out as well. Her mother gathered a group of 5-6 women in her retirement community, and they made hundreds of rosaries each week for the missions.
Zahner became inspired by her mother’s success and started making rosaries when she moved to her new Tallahassee parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church. At first she started making them for children and teens going through their First Communion and Confirmation. Then she made rosaries for the hospitals, then Good Shepherd’s prison ministry, and then church retreat attendees. In addition, she now makes them for children at two other low-income parishes in the Tallahassee community.
Whenever visiting priests or seminarians come to Tallahassee, Zahner supplies them with her hand-made rosaries. A visiting priest to our parish comes every summer from Africa. At first, Zahner provided him with about 60 rosaries. Father Remy asked for more on his next visit, and now it’s a tradition. Even a mission in Belize received about 150 rosaries from Zahner when they reached out to parishes around the world with the same parish name asking for rosary donations.
“If you make a rosary,” Zahner said, “you just feel good. You’re helping somebody connect with the Catholic religion. I like to know that I’m connecting someone with Jesus through the Blessed Virgin.”
Fifty years later, Zahner continues to make rosaries for the Tallahassee and larger worldwide communities. When I asked her how many rosaries she makes a year, she said it had to be a couple thousand. She made 500 rosaries in January alone, just so she could have enough if someone needed them to share with others.
When she travels to military bases or other Catholic parishes, she brings rosaries with her. Her youngest son gave out more than 150 rosaries to Covecrest summer camp attendees each year while in high school. She even made an orange and blue University of Florida rosary for me when I was accepted to college!
Zahner teaches our parish children how to make rosaries as well. Recently, she helped out at a religious education class, teaching the students how to make rosaries to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.
“Whenever I have a spare moment, I just pull out my rosary making materials and start making rosaries,” Zahner said. “People will come over to me and ask what I’m doing, and I tell them, ‘I’m making a rosary. Would you like one?’ And you know, the funny thing is, no one declines.”
It takes Zahner 15-20 minutes to make one rosary. In that time, she makes conversation with the inquiring individuals who share their stories and faith with her. Some people have admitted they don’t remember how to pray the rosary, and so she keeps rosary cards with her at all times.
“I have a tangible reminder that this symbol of our religion is going to someone and being put to good use,” she said. “I believe actions speak louder than words. This is my way of sharing my faith with others.”
Stories of everyday saints, like this one of Sharon Zahner, help inspire us in our daily activities and prayer life, bringing us closer to God. Zahner’s rosary making reminds us that sharing our faith can be fun and simple while still making an impact on the community.
I’ll close with the bible verse she includes on a sheet of paper with the rosaries she gives to First Communicants and Confirmandi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.