In times of great need for prayer, albeit because of war or worldwide spread of a virus, many turn to the Rosary and pray to the Blessed Mother Mary to intercede.
Pope Francis reminded us to pray the Rosary in the very early weeks of this current pandemic.
So was the case nearly 70 years ago when St. George Parish in Hermann conducted a Living Rosary Rally for world peace, welcoming both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
It was a sight to behold, a public display of worship that brought one small town in Gasconade County together for one evening in May of 1952.
The rally was sponsored by St. George’s Holy Name Society.
The war in Korea had been on the minds of all, with brutal battles raging throughout 1951.
Many from Hermann, draftees and volunteers, were engaged in the conflict while serving their country.
The spring of the following year, St. George Parish enlisted parish groups such as the Ladies Sodality and Knights of Columbus Council 1914 and the faculty of the grade school and newly-opened high school to organize a public Rosary Rally.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who staffed the parish’s schools, were telling the story of Our Lady of Fatima in religion classes and urging students to pray the Rosary.
Nearly every student, grade school through high school, wound up taking part in the Living Rosary Rally.
The local Advertiser-Courier newspaper ran a front-page story just days before the event, and again the following week after a most impressive event that started at what many refer to as “Catholic Hill,” the steep rise from the intersection of Fourth and Market streets.
Nothing before, in this hilly Missouri River town of 2,500, compared to it.
The headline on Page 1, column 1, of the May 9, 1952, issue read: “About 1,000 Attend Hermann Rosary Rally for Peace.”
The newspaper’s editor at that time, J.J. Graf, a member of the largest Protestant congregation in town, gave a glowing report of what he witnessed.
He began: “A thousand candles lit the amphitheatre of City Park here last Sunday evening at the Rosary Rally for world peace, which began with a procession that wended its way from Fourth and Market streets to the park.”
Hermann’s lower city park ball diamond, often referred to as the amphitheatre, was a three-level seating venue and the only place in town that could hold such a large gathering.
It had been built prior to World War II with the help of federal funds that were available following the Great Depression of the ’30s.
The ball park’s permanent bleacher seating was said to accommodate crowds of Maifest parade judgings totaling 1,500 or more. For many years, the Maifest parades started downtown and ended at the ball diamond.
Beads of light
The Living Rosary in that spring 68 years ago is still vivid in the minds of St. George parishioners who were of grade-school age at the time.
Jane (Elsenraat) Speckhals, now 80, said she was finishing up sixth grade and had the honor of saying one “Hail Mary.”
“We were proud to do that, to be given such a prestigious position at that rally,” she recalled. “Either a boy or girl would say one ‘Hail Mary’ or an ‘Our Father,’ and as you did that they would turn on the light or a candle you were holding.”
Altar servers and acolytes, wearing cassocks and surplices, carried candles in the procession — the smaller boys carrying the red glass lamp candles and the older boys the larger white ones.
One of the senior boys carried the cross.
Visiting clergy from nine Catholic parishes in Central Missouri, as well as a priest and three Franciscan brothers from St. Anthony Friary in St. Louis, attended.
“The five-blocks-long candlelight procession,” wrote Mr. Graf, “was made up of the V.F.W. color bearers and firing squad, school children in uniforms, Fatima float, servers, clergy and members, both men and women, of the parish, all marching to the military beat of field drums.
“The most striking scene in the long procession was the lovely float, which was decorated in a realistic scene of Fatima,” Mr. Graf wrote. “Since the procession began at sundown, the light-flooded float created a thrilling effect.”
He continued: “As a sign of special honor to the Fatima float, the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus marched on the sides throughout the procession and formed a guard at the altar when they arrived at the park.
“The procession was welcomed to the park by the melodious tones of the powerful Hammond Organ, which was furnished through the courtesy of the Aeolian Company of St. Louis. The volume of music produced by the organ, played by Sister Mary Antonia, filled the whole town in the still of the night.”
“Infinite Thy vast domain”
When the float featuring Our Lady of Fatima and the children forming the Living Rosary had taken their places on the ball field, the recitation of the beads began.
Each pupil representing one of the beads was provided a flashlight, which was turned on as each succeeding prayer was said.
Immediately after the Rosary, Franciscan Father Colman Borgard, pastor of St. George Parish, preached the sermon.
He preached about the meaning of the messages Our Lady had given to three children during a series of apparitions in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.
Since the Fatima scene held the place of honor in the procession, the Most Blessed Sacrament was brought to the park privately in the parish car, which was fittingly decorated for the honor with the papal colors, gold and white.
Franciscan Father Fergus Stevenson, assistant pastor of St. George, brought the Sacred Species from the car to the beautiful altar, where it was exposed.
“When the Solemn Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament was given, the VFW firing squad gave a three-gun salute to the thrill of the crowded park,” the newspaper reported.
“After the benediction, the trustees of the parish with lighted torches accompanied Fr. Fergus with the Blessed Sacrament back to the church. The car moved slowly out of the stadium as more than a thousand devoted adorers sang the solemn ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name,’ to bring to a fitting close the first Rosary Rally in Hermann.”
Mr. Kruse is retired editor of the Hermann Advertiser-Courier, and a member of St. George Church and the Hermann Knights of Columbus Council 1914.