Woman says rosary made of tornado debris is 'beautiful because God loves broken things'

A rosary that Cassandra Falcone, an Ohio woman, assembled with beads uncovered during a cleanup in western Kentucky after devastating tornadoes in December 2021 is seen Sept. 14, 2023. Falcone, who took a parish mission trip to help with post-tornado recovery in the Diocese of Owensboro, sent the rosary to Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro. (OSV News photo/Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic)

OWENSBORO, Ky. (OSV News) – In July 2022, Cassandra Falcone was cleaning up debris from the December 2021 tornadoes in western Kentucky when she came across an unusual sight: "little beads sticking up out of the ground."

Falcone, who was on a mission trip with her Ohio parish to assist those impacted by the storms, thought at first that she had found someone's missing rosary. Realizing it was just a string of plastic beads like that of a beaded curtain or a necklace, she put it on the debris pile.

"Then the word 'rosary' stayed in my head and wouldn't go away," Falcone said in a phone interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Owensboro Diocese. Later that day she returned to the debris pile and retrieved the beads, unwilling to let them be hauled away with the rest of the garbage.

"I couldn't leave them," said Falcone, who belongs to Sts. Cosmas and Damian Parish in Twinsburg, Ohio.

She put the beads in her pocket, uncertain what to do next, but relieved that she hadn't left them behind. In the evening, she rinsed the dirt off the beads and continued to reflect on her discovery – and noticed there were 55 beads. (A standard five-decade rosary contains 53 beads for the Hail Mary prayers.)

At this point Falcone recognized the string of beads was meant to become a rosary.

When the mission trip returned home to Ohio, Falcone washed the beads thoroughly, and began to research rosary-making. She had never made a rosary before, nor did she know anyone who made them.

With the encouragement and support of her pastor, Fr. Michael Stalla, Falcone delved into the world of rosary-making. She purchased a small jewelry-style drill so she could put holes in the tiny beads; they had been glued to the string and needed to be drilled before threading onto the wire.

She searched online for the supplies specific to rosary-making, and came across Our Lady's Rosary Makers, a nonprofit Catholic apostolate within the Archdiocese of Louisville.

"When I saw the Kentucky connection I knew I was on the right path," said Falcone.

Around Christmas 2022, with her new supplies in hand, Falcone said a prayer and began drilling the holes. The process went smoothly enough, and soon she was putting the beads onto the wire loops to make the "links" for the rosary.

Falcone found beautiful silver beads for the Our Father prayers, which complemented the original black beads. But she was stumped when it came to the right crucifix and rosary centerpiece fixture; she had purchased a set early on but had lost track of them.

She finally found the perfect rosary crucifix detailed with black enamel on Etsy – "that matched all the beads," she said – and when it arrived in the mail, it included a free Miraculous Medal themed rosary centerpiece.

"Again, God provided what he wanted me to use," said Falcone.

She completed the project over two Sunday afternoons, and when it was finished, she knew what she was meant to do with the rosary.

With Fr. Stalla's assistance, Falcone wrote to her bishop, Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Cleveland, for permission to send the rosary to Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro – where her mission trip had helped with tornado cleanup.

Bishop Malesic granted her permission, and he and Fr. Stalla helped Falcone find the address for the Owensboro Diocese and mail the rosary.

When Bishop Medley received the rosary, and an extensive letter from Falcone detailing her journey, he wrote her a note of gratitude. He also took it along on a recent pilgrimage he led to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. The rosary is now back home in Owensboro to stay.

Falcone told The Western Kentucky Catholic that she is no stranger to devastating storms. She said that in 1985, an EF-3 tornado went through her hometown in Ohio, and while she was fine, it impacted her "friends, classmates and people I worked with."

Since then, she has deep empathy for those who have experienced the trauma of a tornado.

"You can donate money and send prayers – and those are wonderful," said Falcone, but expressed that this time, she had felt a strong urge "to do more."

Falcone said she heard a voice in her heart telling her that she would get her chance, so she waited patiently. That time came when Fr. Stalla announced that their parish would be sending a mission trip to western Kentucky to help with the recovery and restoration process.

Now she understands why.

In her letter to Bishop Medley, Falcone wrote that "God didn't want a rosary made of gemstones or fine materials. He wanted a rosary made from beads that were literally broken by hell's fury on this earth, beads that had been turned into junk and discarded as worthless. … It's made beautiful because God loves broken and imperfect things, especially people, very, very much!"

Nearly two years have passed since the tornadoes, and Falcone told The Western Kentucky Catholic that recovering from such devastation "is not a sprint – it's a marathon. And some people can run that marathon faster than others."

She thinks back to the ministry of St. Teresa of Kolkata, and how her work was focused on the reality that "God loves anything that's broken."

As she wrote in her letter to Bishop Medley, "We are all like the beads of this rosary – weathered, imperfect, all the same yet a little different, and yes, even broken at times by our earthly journey. Yet God loves us and works to help us become more beautiful, more perfect through his love, grace and mercy. The story of this rosary is the story of all of us."

She told The Western Kentucky Catholic that she sees the rosary as a gift to the people of Kentucky.

"God had his timing on this, and he still does," she said.


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