“A hundred little voices. One and two at a time.”
That’s how Virginia Johnson Shetler described the dedication of the Rosary Garden outside St. Andrew Church in Tipton.
Older and younger students of St. Andrew School stood two-by-two at each “bead” in the newly completed garden.
Each helped lead one of the prayers as the entire school asked Mary to intercede for them before the throne of Christ in heaven.
Father Anthony Rinaldo, pastor of St. Andrew parish and of Annunciation parish in California, blessed and dedicated the Rosary Garden in the presence of all the students and faculty.
“May God grant to us, His faithful people, that by praying the Rosary we may, with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, seek to keep His joys, sorrows and glories in our minds and hearts,” Fr. Rinaldo prayed.
The Rosary Garden is a 75-by-30-foot paved loop of decorative concrete embedded with polished black stones in the shape of beads and a cross.
Each bead is dedicated in honor or memory of someone with ties to the parish.
There are benches for resting and trees for shade.
Engraved stone plaques list the Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary and the Corporal Works of Mercy.
In the center, surrounded by rose bushes, is a statue of the Blessed Mother, looking down at sheaths of corn.
Another nearby image of Mary depicts her kneeling down, arms outstretched to welcome Jesus as a small child.
A simple kiosk contains rosaries and pamphlets on how to pray the great Marian devotion.
“This sacred space is a gift from the parishioners of St. Andrew Church,” a sign at the entrance reads. “A place for people of all faiths to pray and meditate upon the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.”
Dream by the river
Lifelong St. Andrew parishioner Mark Koechner, whose ancestors helped found the parish, was instrumental in bringing the Rosary Garden into being.
“Basically I had a dream,” he said. “And I was very fortunate to have people around me to support the dream.”
It started about eight years ago when he attended a White House Jesuit Retreat in St. Louis, the grounds filled with prayerful walkways and scenic vistas.
Amidst the beauty of his surroundings and the silence of the retreat, the idea came to him.
“I can’t explain what came over me,” he said. “It was like a dream. I went back to my room and drew the whole thing up and went about enjoying the rest of the retreat.”
In his head, the project was already completed.
“Once I get an idea in my mind, I can see it in living color, complete,” he said.
Back home, Mr. Koechner showed the drawing to his wife, Christine. She liked the idea. So did Joann Koechner, his cousin, and other fellow parishioners.
So did Father Fred Elskamp, who was pastor of the Tipton and California parishes at that time.
Mr. Koechner started setting money aside each year to pay for the project.
He shared the idea with Fr. Rinaldo when he arrived as pastor in 2016.
“He liked the idea,” Mr. Koechner recalled. “But he wanted all of the people of the parish to be able to participate in it.”
Mr. Koechner made a 3-dimensional drawing, had one of the stone pavers engraved and gave a short presentation at church.
He explained the significance of the Rosary Garden’s location.
“I wanted the kids in school to see it while they were walking to and from church,” he said. “It’s also near some large trees, so it would be shaded and comfortable a lot of the time.”
The idea caught on.
“We had a lot of people jump on board with this thing,” said Mr. Koechner. “It took off. The parish embraced it and supported it very well.”
So many people wanted to sponsor pavers in the garden, the parish decided to add another row of pavers around the perimeter.
“The support from the parish community was just unbelievable,” said Mr. Koechner, “including people living in town and people who used to live here and came and saw it or heard about it and wanted to be part of it.”
One family agreed to pay for the statues.
Fr. Rinaldo selected “Our Lady of the Harvest” for the center of the garden as a nod to the parish’s agrarian character.
Mr. Koechner’s wife chose the “Madonna and Young Child” image to emphasize Mary as a mother who welcomes all of God’s children.
Construction started last fall but ceased when winter weather set in.
“We did get our base down,” Mr. Koechner noted. “It got a good winter on it, which made it nice and solid.”
Local contractor Travis Kliethermes, who had helped restore the 120-year-old fence around the church property, was summoned to handle the concrete work.
“I told him when we started that it has to be extraordinary,” said Mr. Koechner. “I said I want people to come to Tipton to see the Rosary Garden.”
When it came time to add landscaping, he turned to Alice Longfellow.
“I told her we wanted roses for the Blessed Mother,” he recalled. “For the rest of the garden, we wanted something beautiful but low maintenance.”
“We wanted something that catches the eye and makes people want to be here,” he added.
Work progressed when weather permitted.
The last of the landscaping went in early this summer.
Fr. Rinaldo invited the schoolchildren to attend a special dedication service in October, the Month of the Rosary.
As a spectator, Mrs. Shetler thought it was “really sweet” to see each of the children lead one of the Rosary prayers.
“Any time you get a chance for the whole school to come out and pray the Rosary together, in the light of day, I think that’s pretty powerful,” said Mrs. Shetler, who grew up in Tipton and graduated from St. Andrew School.
People driving by slowed down, rolled down their windows and listened to some of the prayers, she said.
She said seeing the names on the beads, including a grade-school classmate and several of her teachers, brought back happy memories.
“Sister Cecilia,” she said. “Father Reichert. (Deacon) Peter Felotico, who was a deacon here when I was really young. His wife was our first-grade teacher.”
She recalled praying the Rosary with her classmates in grade school, usually during Lent.
“And now they have a wonderful set-up where kids can come and pray together or by themselves, whatever time of the year,” she said.
A place to learn and pray
Mr. Koechner plans to help with ongoing maintenance of the garden, which he believes will not be expensive.
He’s still amazed at how everything came together.
“God set this thing in motion with a dream, and so many people came and helped and made it work,” he said.
At various times while driving by, he has noticed people seated on the benches or following the path of the rosary beads in the garden.
“What makes me feel really good is seeing kids up there, walking around and reading the mysteries,” he said. “I don’t know if the kids are Catholic or not, but we’re always planting that seed when that happens.”
He hopes the next step for first-time visitors to the garden will be to drop into church to pray and meditate.
He is counting on them being welcomed by a loving community of believers in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
He’s looking forward to more people discovering the power of Our Lady’s intercession.
“I want this to always be a place where people can feel comfortable learning the Rosary and praying the Rosary,” he said.
“If even one or two people who come here learn the Rosary or get back into saying it every day, whatever money we spent on this will have been well worth it,” he said.