Three years ago, the first circuits of prayers were murmured in the sheltered stillness of a tiny copse of trees behind Spirit of Life Catholic Church in Mandan.
The small grove, tucked in behind the church just north of the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Third Street Southeast, had been delicately changed from its little wilderness to a place of prayer, by using the simplest of materials - stones and wooden steps - into a meditative circle, a walking prayer, a step-by-step rosary recitation.
The original work to create the Rosary Walk was an Eagle Scout project completed in 2006. In the years since, people from other churches and from the community have been welcome to walk the stone circuit and pray in the quietude.
Even then, Spirit of Life had plans to upgrade and add elements to the walk as time went on.
This October, walkers who attended the Wednesday evening Rosary Walks as part of Respect Life Month found a new look to the little island of trees.
The rocks, which had often been scattered from their places - most likely as part of neighborhood kids' play - were replaced by a "rosary" of large polished wooden beads strung on a chain.
Ed Helbling of Mandan spent several months working on the beads in his home workshop. Using a special wood lathe he bought, Helbling spent hours creating each bead, suspending the completed ones in a row from his ceiling until they were all done. The round beads are the segments of the Lord's Prayer - more often referred to by Catholics as "the Our Father." The beads of the "Hail Mary" series are oblong. Helbling, who is a member of the Bismarck-Mandan Wood Turners, carefully worked each approximately 12-by-12-inch wooden bead to reveal the maximum beauty of the grain and knotting, and varnished them to a reflective polish. They are now spaced along a chain around the 300-foot perimeter of the walk, which rises and falls along a series of wooden steps made by Eagle Scout Jacob Wanner.
The Knights of Columbus helped with the evolution of the Rosary Walk, adding a corpus, or figure of Jesus, to the crucifix at the end, just as a regular beaded rosary would have. They also provided a large 7-foot bronze-finish statue of the Virgin Mary near the entrance, which is marked by an arched trellis; seating has been added with metal benches for people to rest and pray.
"We have even more of a vision of what it can become," Helbling said.
Spirit of Life KC members removed about 20 trees and their deadfall, and are planning to install lighting, a perimeter fence and other upgrades, said member Raymond Morrell. Helbling said other plans include adding a sign at the entrance and other signs to mark what the church refers to as the Mysteries - the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are called the Joyful Mysteries, followed by the Luminous Mysteries of Jesus' life and work, the Sorrowful Mysteries, his suffering and death, and the Glorious Mysteries on the resurrection and ascension.
Walking the rosary in this space is a repetitive, meditative, a fuller experience, which is the beauty of the rosary, said the Rev. Chad Gion, pastor at Spirit of Life.
After the deadfall trees were removed, "As soon as it opened up, there was magnificent daylight," he said. "It's amazing how cut off it is, with a sense of peace."
"People have found it a place of solace, a place of prayer, a place of reflection," Morrell said.
"How quiet in the summer, with the trees and leaves," Helbling said.
Walking the rosary "reminds me of Mass," Gion said, "which is a whole-body experience. You kneel, you stand, you sit."
The rosary expresses a belief in engaging the whole self in prayer, the belief that the body and the soul are connected, he said.
Monasteries once recited all 150 biblical psalms every day, he said. In the villages that grew up around monasteries, people wanted to join in the prayers, but since most villagers couldn't read, the monks gave them 150 prayers recited on the beads of the rosary, he said. Church groups and individuals are invited to use the Rosary Walk, said Gion. Individuals may come and go as they wish, he said; larger groups may want to call the church to let them know when they will be there, he said.
(Reach reporter Karen Herzog at 250-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)