By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 23, 2014
ROSWELL—Wrinkled hands grasp the beads as the men and women recite the Hail Mary, the Our Father and other prayers learned long before their hair turned white.
Every Saturday, this group draws together. Mary and David Waters shepherd this assembly. The husband and wife gently remind residents at St. George Village continuing care community to pray for the world.
David hopes the meetings encourage them to show some compassion through their prayer. He emphasizes, “We are a hopeful, joyful people.”
Life has different aches when you are older. Here the prayers focus on the joyful and luminous mysteries as its members recite the rosary. The joyful mysteries of the rosary recall the events leading to Jesus’ birth and his early childhood, while the luminous mysteries are meditations on the public ministry of Jesus.
“There is a lot of sorrow already for these folks. Folks get up and they aren’t feeling well,” David said. “A lot of times we emphasize God is there, he loves us, he hears us, and he’s there to help us.”
They rarely miss these Saturday gatherings. Only sickness or a significant family event keeps the couple away. St. George Village has residents who are living independently, while others are assisted as they decline physically or have failing memory. It takes about 20 minutes for Mary and David to visit the floors on the health care side of the residential community to remind women and men about the rosary service.
“It’s not pushing and tugging,” David said. “They are there, with their canes and wheelchairs.”
Mary, a rehabilitation nurse at North Fulton Hospital, said, “We love seeing the joy on the faces of the seniors every week. It is indeed sad to have some of them leave us because of sickness and or death, but there are always new faces who come to join us around the table.”
This prayer time is one way to reach senior citizens and those in retirement who may have a renewed interest in returning to the faith traditions of their youth, said Vern Bengtson, an aging expert and research professor of social work at the University of Southern California.
People have more time to think about religious and spiritual concerns in their senior years, and as the baby boomers age they are becoming aware of the “finitude” of life, said Bengtson. He has studied how faith is lived by following some 350 families from 1969 until 2008.
This seems to be a good example of taking senior citizens’ desire for religious support seriously, he said. Ministering to this generation, including some who left the church years ago, may lead to a “retirement surge in religion,” he said. Seniors citizens and the newly retired are an age group that is often “mission territory,” to be served and instructed in the faith, he said.
The rosary ministry is admired by Renee Krosner Slone, health care activities manager at St. George Village. “They just have a tremendous relationship with the residents,” she said of the Waters. “It’s remarkable. It shows a level of care. It’s a friendship they have.”
They live in Roswell and belong to Atlanta’s Our Lady of Lourdes Church. David, 62, has his own consulting firm and mentors fourth-graders at a public school near the parish.
He was one of five boys of Elaine Waters, who never gave up her dream of college as her family grew. She earned a master’s degree after her youngest child entered high school. They grew up outside of New York City. His grandmother’s faith shaped his own faith. Saturday visits to his grandparents meant waiting for her to finish her prayers. “Nothing started until she finished her rosary,” he said.
David’s mother was a resident of St. George Village in 2006 and prayed with the existing group. He noticed that visitors who once participated in events faded away after their loved ones died. He didn’t want to walk away from the community a few years later when his mother died.
The group over the years has grown and shrunk. People there one week may not be there the next Saturday. It’s not unexpected when the group is made up of senior citizens. Those who die aren’t forgotten. Indeed, the prayers recited reflect the members’ different needs and desires, even of those who have passed on.
The group is together for about an hour. Wheelchairs are tucked underneath a long wooden table. A carved wooden statue of the Virgin Mary carrying the child Jesus sits on one end.
David said different people bring different things to the prayer service. A special prayer was important to a regular member, Angela Mohar, so the group incorporated her written prayer. It ends every rosary service.
Mary said she’s seen how the seniors enjoy meeting to say the rosary and socialize with each other in a prayerful way. She said, “Even those who can’t stay awake all through the rosary have a peaceful and sometimes joyful expression when they awaken.”
Around the long table, current events come up for discussion and prayer, from the tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Middle East to Pope Francis.
Long-term memories—and prayers—are recalled in detail, while recent events can be foggy.
“They laugh. We laugh. It’s a program that meets them where they are,” said David. “They can’t remember all the details, but at certain situations, things pop up. Their minds aren’t that gone. Their faith is ingrained.”