Published September 15, 2005
Greg Willits is 6 feet 5 inches tall, with a shaved head and a goatee. He’s hardly the type of guy one would imagine doing arts and crafts.
But love for his faith has inspired Willits and in turn, hundreds of others, to become rosary-making soldiers.
The Willits’ home sits in a cul-de-sac in a quiet Conyers neighborhood. Though from the outside it is an unassuming family home, inside is the headquarters of an army—an organization that counts prayer among its heavy artillery.
Since Willits created the Rosary Army in 2003, people across the country have taken to heart the group’s slogan, “make them, pray them, give them away.”
Willits grew up a “cradle Catholic” with parents who were heavily involved in the Atlanta Cursillo movement.
“No one had ever questioned our faith, and growing up, I never questioned my faith,” he said.
In 1995, he married his wife, Jennifer, a baptized but lapsed Catholic. Although the two of them began going to church together on Sundays, that eventually “tapered off,” Willits said.
However two years later, the Willits welcomed their oldest son, Sam, into their family, and they began to seek God again with sincerity.
But it wasn’t until a powerful reconciliation experience with Father Michael Heninger, then a priest at their parish, St. Pius X in Conyers, that Willits began to embrace the rosary.
“I basically had to relearn it,” he said.
He began a 54-day novena, praying the rosary every day.
“I found a lot more peace than I had in a long time,” he said.
Willits had always been a creative person, but it was one day, while searching the Internet for instructions to make a twine-knotted rosary, that his life changed forever.
He found some basic instructions and began to make his own rosary, and soon he was hooked.
“I used to walk with this … long trail of twine flapping in the wind behind me,” he said. “And people started watching me and asking me about them, so I would give them away.”
Rosary Army was officially founded in 2003. The buzz surrounding the organization was slow at first, with a few people requesting rosaries through their Web site, rosaryarmy.com. Soon, however, the word was out, and today, through Willits’ love for the Church and the rosary, thousands of free, all-twine knotted rosaries have been distributed, and hundreds of “soldiers” have joined the Army to make rosaries.
Through the Web site, visitors can learn how to pray the rosary and how to make a twine rosary. Through interactive forums, they can also discuss their faith and make prayer requests. The RA soldiers make the rosaries, sometimes in bulks of hundreds, and send them in to Willits who then distributes them to those who request them. At the 2005 Eucharistic Congress, over 2,500 rosaries were distributed.
“We have sent a rosary to every state in the United States and I don’t know how many countries,” Willits said.
Willits also travels around the archdiocese, giving talks about the rosary and leading workshops, teaching others how to make them. Earlier this year, they produced a DVD that includes a talk by Willits and instructions on making the rosary. It also gives viewers the opportunity to pray the rosary along with the DVD.
His family has also become involved. Willits’ mother, Pat, serves as the head of quality control, putting metal crucifixes onto the rosaries and checking to make sure they have been properly made. Willits’ wife is also heavily involved, though she admits she was reluctant at first to pray the rosary when she was rediscovering her faith.
“I think it was just a lack of understanding on my part,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t really know how I was supposed to feel about (Mary).”
As the mother of four boys, Jennifer said that she now looks to Mary as a role model.
“I really try to treat her as a spiritual mother,” she said. “I revere her in a new way.”
Jennifer said she loves having the Rosary Army presence in her home, and credits her husband with her newfound faith.
“That strong faith that he had was so contagious for me,” she said. “It was like a catapult, and I’m constantly striving to become more orthodox.”
Greg’s office, the former walk-in closet in his bedroom that he lovingly refers to as the “master cloffice,” is painted Marian blue. The majority of his time is spent sitting in front of his two computers, updating the Rosary Army Web site, which gets at least 200 hits a day. He has also added podcasting, a sort of home radio broadcast, into the mix, and visitors to the Web site can listen to Greg and Jennifer speak about various Catholic topics. The podcasts can also be downloaded via iTunes.
It hasn’t been just the Willits family and those who have received rosaries whose faith lives have been touched.
Teena Katzbeck is the division head for FNT twine, a company that sells twine and netting. Willits orders his twine from the company’s Web site and links to it via rosaryarmy.com.
When Katzbeck first spoke to Willits about his mission for Rosary Army, she admits she was intrigued.
“I just was fascinated that someone could be this passionate,” she said.
The company, based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, originally sold 10 colors of the twine for rosaries but now offers 20 colors and over 400 variations of those colors.
“It has definitely affected our business,” Katzbeck said.
As a result, Katzbeck has been given the task of heading the rosary twine division of FNT.
“It has become a profitable business. Profit-wise we’ve doubled; our customer base has also doubled,” she said.
And for Katzbeck, Willits and the Rosary Army have changed her. She has embraced her Catholic faith with a newfound passion.
“In my heart, I know I was sent (to FNT) for a reason,” she said. “I get to talk to people every day, people who are just so strong in their own faith that it has changed mine.”
Joyce Malawey is one of Rosary Army’s hardest working soldiers. She often sends in 100 rosaries a month. The 63-year-old from Missouri had attended a Marian conference in St. Louis and saw a group of nuns making rosaries and became intrigued. While searching for supplies, she came across Rosary Army, which, she said, was an answer to her prayers.
“It just really intrigued me,” she said. “I didn’t know why, but I knew this was what I was supposed to do.”
She said she is constantly making rosaries—in the car, at the doctor’s office, at home.
“I have a purse full of twine and full of rosaries in every stage of completion,” she said. “Rosary Army has been a real answer. I didn’t know what I was going to do with all the rosaries I was making.”
Malawey is also an active member of the Rosary Army Web site forums.
“One of the most fantastic things about this is the great camaraderie,” she said. “I feel like these people are family. We share so much of our lives with each other and can pray for each other and offer advice.”
Malawey even flew to Atlanta to meet Greg and Jennifer and attend the 2005 Eucharistic Congress, and believes that the rosary is a powerful prayer that could change the world.
“I truly believe that if we walked around and saw people praying the rosary all the time, a lot of our problems in this world would disappear,” she said. “I just really feel called to this.”
Rosary Army is currently working to supply rosaries for those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
“We’ve been contacted by several groups, including the Catholic Center for Charismatic Renewal in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve also spoken with the Catholic Center at Louisiana State University, where I understand that a large group of evacuees have been given shelter. Between those two groups, we’ll probably send out several hundred rosaries by Wednesday of this week,” Willits said.
Those who wish to learn more about the rosary and how to make an all-twine knotted rosary can visit Rosary Army at www.rosaryarmy.com. There, visitors can find supplies, instructions and more general information about the Catholic faith.
Through the RA Web site and FNT, people can also order a rosary making starter kit, which includes one seven-yard piece of twine, enough for a full rosary, one silver-toned metal crucifix, and a solid and tri-color twine sample sheet, price list and an order form. The starter kit can be purchased for $2.
This week, Sept. 16, Greg and Jennifer will celebrate their 10th anniversary—their first full “decade” together—and Greg feels blessed by the work God has done in their lives.
“I want to see my children take over this one day,” he said.
“From the beginning we have always trusted Mary and she has always given us what we need,” he said. “I needed 2,700 rosaries in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress, and I got them. We’ve just always had what we needed.”
ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer