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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Hand-crafted rosaries are helping New Hamburg man keep the faith

Monday, November 29, 2004

Joseph Heisserer displays a rosary he made.
NEW HAMBURG - When the October tornado whipped through New Hamburg, it blew past the statute of the Virgin Mary in the church cemetery plucking the rosary beads from her hands.

Mother Nature must have known how special those beads were. She placed them down safely next to the church.

Joseph Heisserer, who made the rosary, is obviously pleased with the story as he tells it.

The rosary is among hundreds he has created for more years than he cares to remember. "Your guess is as good as mine," he quips about his hobby. "Oh, maybe 25 years off and on." All hand-crafted, the rosaries reflect his love not only for his church but also the land and nature for the beads are made from rose petals, special woods or the seeds of a plant called Job's Tears.

He calls daughter Anna Bollinger the instigator of his craft. Heisserer recalls it was she who told him about Job's Tears, a variety of grass which produces seeds that come complete with a hole in the center for stringing as beads.

"I got curious and got a brochure and then I started to make (rosaries)," he said.

After he created numerous rosaries from the Job's Tears, he was asked if he ever made the beads from rose petals. Again his curiosity got him interested, he studied the process and went to work.

You might say Heisserer gathered his rose petals where he may - from friends' rose bushes, the rose petals used at weddings and sometimes he would be brought the petals from special bouquets to create the beads.

Once the petals are dried, he puts them in a blender, whirring the machine until the petals turn into a fine powder.

Opening up one of the many containers around his work table in his living room, Heisserer points out the sweet rose fragrance is gone from the powder. He then picks up a small vial. "This puts the rose smell back in," he said shaking the vial of rose oil. "That's the secret."

The oil is added as he cooks the blend of powdered roses and water mixed with glue to create what he described as a "playdough." The cooled dough is loaded in a tube and with a caulk-gun apparatus, Heisserer squeezes out equal-sized streams of the soft goo that he rolls into beads.

Each rosary bead is hand-linked and completed with a crucifix.

Heisserer points out the color difference from the unused beads of the Job's Tears to those on a rosary he was given to repair. "The oil in the body makes the beads change, they get darker. So the more you pray, the prettier they get," Heisserer explained.

The craftsman acknowledged making a rosary by hand is time-consuming. A Job's Tear rosary would take him about an hour and half to make from start to finish, he said and would be much quicker made by machine. "They've got machines for everything but it is nicer to have something made by hand," he surmised.

Heisserer estimates over the years he has made several hundred rosaries - many as gifts to family members and others used for fund-raisers for St. Lawrence Catholic Church and School.

While each rosary is unique, some particularly reflect the wearer. His son Elmer carved beads from the wood of an osage orange hedge, which Heisserer turned into a rosary and for his late wife he created beads with the birth stones of their children and grandchildren.

Daughter-in-law Sue Heisserer said they are gifts all of them cherish. "I just thought it was the neatest thing when he started making them and then he made all his children and his grandchildren rosaries - that was really something special."

But now Heisserer's eyesight is failing and the making of the rosaries is becoming more difficult for the 88-year-old man. "The Lord gave me good eyesight all my life but recently I lost my left eye. That interferes with my work and now, I'm behind," he explains, then adds with a laugh, "Maybe I'm getting lazy, too."

He is passing the craft on to others. He has presented programs at the area elementary schools and loans his tools occasionally. "It is wonderful when they take a real interest," Heisserer said.

He tells those interested that while it may not be profitable, it is rewarding when you get done.

And, he adds, there is a greater reward.

"You pray the rosary more often."