“It would be impossible to name all the many saints who discovered in the rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness,” St. John Paul II said in his 2002 apostolic letter on the Most Holy Rosary. Father Donald Calloway, a priest with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the community that runs the national shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, quotes him in his new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon (see here or here), in which, in over 400 pages, does his best to help readers to meet many of them. It’s a mix of history, tradition, prayer, and witness. It’s good as an intense primer for study or reminder — entreaty, really — to dip in and out of, to go deeper in prayer with Mary for the healing salvation of your own soul and the world. In an interview with Angelus, he talks about the Rosary and the book.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What does it mean to be a “champion of the rosary”?
Father Donald Calloway, MIC: A “champion of the rosary” is someone who prays the rosary and wants others to learn about this powerful prayer. A champion does not have to be a scholar, priest, author, or in a leadership position. To champion the rosary simply means that a person wants to help promote the rosary. This can be done by giving rosaries away or offering someone a book on the rosary. The latter is one of the reasons why I wrote a book on the rosary. Champions of the Rosary (see here or here) is over 400 pages, including a full color section on the rosary in classical art from museums around the world. The book is being acclaimed as the most comprehensive book ever written on the subject since it highlights all the great champions of the rosary throughout history, and also recounts the many battles, victories, and miracles the rosary has brought about over the centuries. It has endorsements from 30 bishops, 4 cardinals, and many international Dominican theologians. There simply is no other book like it, and it is being offered super cheap!
Lopez: Why the war-talk?
Father Calloway: The bookends of human history, from Genesis to Revelation, are all about a great battle taking place. The battle involves a dragon, a woman, and her victorious offspring. The dragon is Satan, the woman is the Virgin Mary, and her offspring is Jesus Christ and all those who are his disciples. We were all born into this battle. There is no escaping this confrontation and there are no bystanders. Everyone knows you need a sword to slay a dragon. The rosary is that sword!
Lopez: What’s the big deal about Mary in October?
Father Calloway: The month of October has been dedicated to Mary for centuries. The reason why is because it was in October of 1571 that a decisive naval battle was won through the rosary of Our Lady. This was the Battle of Lepanto and it is considered by historians (both Christian and non-Christian) as one of the most important battles in history; it is the battle that saved western civilization from radical Islamic takeover. During the 16th century Christianity was divided as a result of the Protestant revolt, and Islam sought to take advantage of the division by conquering Rome, the heart of western civilization and Christianity. It was St. Pope Pius V who recognized the threat and decided to do something about it. Instead of waiting for the radicals to attack St. Peter’s, he formed a Christian naval fleet (a Holy League) to go in search of the terrorists and “take care” of the situation. He simultaneously asked all of Christendom to pray the rosary and he, himself, prayed the rosary in Rome with the faithful. In the end, the Christian militia defeated the Muslims and saved the west. Everyone at that time attributed the victory to Our Lady and her rosary. This is the origin of why Catholics honor Mary and her rosary every October.
Lopez: If you could introduce people to only one of the saints who were champions of the rosary, who would it be and why?
Father Calloway: My favorite champion of the rosary is Blessed Bartolo Longo. This guy was a former ordained priest of Satan! It doesn’t get any worse than that. He grew up in Naples during a time of strong nationalistic movements in Italy. When he went off to college, he abandoned the Catholicism of his youth and became involved in séances and other occult practices. This led him to become a Satanic priest. His involvement in the occult resulted in nightmares, extreme depression and anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. It was only after he talked to a Dominican priest that his life changed for the better. This priest told Bartolo about the rosary and its power to change a person’s life. Bartolo was deeply moved by these words and renounced his activity in the occult and began a new life. He also began to champion the rosary everywhere and quickly became one of the greatest promoters of the rosary in history. He rebuilt the ancient city of Pompeii, Italy, carried out many charitable works (he established orphanages, schools, and hospitals), and constructed the world’s most famous Shrine dedicated to the rosary: The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii. He was declared a Blessed by St. John Paul II in 1980. If the rosary can change such a man as Bartolo, it can change anyone for the better.
Lopez: You quote St. Louis de Montfort: “As long as priests followed St. Dominic’s example and preached devotion to the holy rosary, piety and fervor thrived throughout the Christian world and in those religious orders which were devoted to the rosary. But since people have neglected this gift from heaven, all kinds of sin and disorder have spread far and wide.” How is he so sure? What would you say to one who might consider such sentiments pious nonsense and a bit of a throwback?
Father Calloway: Saint Louis de Montfort is not saying that all sin and disorder in the world are the result of not praying the rosary. What he is saying, however, is that neglecting the rosary does increase sin and cause disorder in society and in the lives of Christians. In my book, I present the 800-year history of the rosary and give both evidence and examples of how it is that when people neglect or abandon the rosary there immediately follows a period of immorality, sin, mediocrity, evil political leaders, and very uninspiring priests. Peace, virtue, and social order do not return to society and the parish until the rosary makes its way back into the lives of God’s people.
This is particularly true, as St. Louis notes, when priests and sisters do not pray and encourage the rosary. Everyone knows that religious communities that pray the rosary have holy vocations. On the other hand, any religious community that does not pray the rosary, is bound to decrease in holiness and experience its members go in pursuit of false gods because they have chosen to replace Christian meditation with new age “self-help” counterfeits. History has proven time and time again that when the rosary is fervently prayed and promoted by the clergy, peace, virtue, and vocations increase. Neglect the rosary, and it’s only a matter of time before things begin to unravel again.
Lopez: Did he really knock out drunken hecklers for mocking Jesus and Mary? Does that mean he needed to pray the rosary more?
Father Calloway: Yes, he really did this. Saints are human. Saint Louis de Montfort was a priest and a man defending his God and his spiritual mother. While I don’t necessarily advocate knocking people out (St. Louis himself later apologized for what he did), I would personally never let someone publicly mock my mother without there being some kind of “confrontation.” We don’t know exactly what the hecklers were saying, but all men (including priests) have their limits. Don’t mess with a man’s mom.
Lopez: How can the rosary teach virtue?
Father Calloway: Everyone seeks to imitate the qualities of their hero. Jesus is our ultimate “hero” and worthy of our imitation. By meditating on the mysteries of his life, death, and resurrection in the rosary, we learn to imitate his virtues and become like him.