Kalispell family shares faith through handmade rosaries

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  • Katie Donahue adds rose oil to an olive wood rosary she is working on in her home studio on Thursday, October 11, in Kalispell. She and her family (all seven of her children) have been making rosaries for 17 years. The DoTerra Rose Oil is not added to all rosaries, but it can be added to rosaries made with wooden beads. When added the rose oil adds another sensory element to the rosary. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Detail of a rosary made by Katie Donahue with Miracle Beads, beads which start with a silver-finished Lucite core that is then coated with several layers of lacquer.

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    Portrait of rosary-maker Katie Donahue in her home on Thursday, October 11, in Kalispell. Donahue is holding a photograph of her sister Tara. Tara had begun the work of making rosaries before her sudden death. Donahue and her family took up the work in part to honor her memory and Tara’s devotion to the Blessed Mother. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    The stand of rosary beads normally on display at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Katie Donahue adds rose oil to an olive wood rosary she is working on in her home studio on Thursday, October 11, in Kalispell. She and her family (all seven of her children) have been making rosaries for 17 years. The DoTerra Rose Oil is not added to all rosaries, but it can be added to rosaries made with wooden beads. When added the rose oil adds another sensory element to the rosary. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Detail of a rosary made by Katie Donahue with Miracle Beads, beads which start with a silver-finished Lucite core that is then coated with several layers of lacquer.

  • 2

    Portrait of rosary-maker Katie Donahue in her home on Thursday, October 11, in Kalispell. Donahue is holding a photograph of her sister Tara. Tara had begun the work of making rosaries before her sudden death. Donahue and her family took up the work in part to honor her memory and Tara’s devotion to the Blessed Mother. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    The stand of rosary beads normally on display at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

For 17 years, Katie Donahue of Kalispell has worked at her table, alongside her children as they’ve grown, teaching and sharing with them the art of rosary-making.

Each handcrafted piece the family makes, according to Donahue, begins with a prayer over its future recipient and, when finished, symbolizes the family’s devotion to their Catholic faith.

“For Catholics, the rosary is just a tool. We call it the most powerful weapon in the world and the most peaceful weapon in the world,” Donahue said. “The power of prayer can do amazing great things and change the world for the better.”

A mother of seven, Donahue has taught each of her children how to count and string the beads, aiming to pass along her faith through the powerful imagery they represent.

“It’s definitely a family effort, and it helps the kids learn about their faith and making something for someone else,” Donahue said.

Donahue said the business also provides a way to honor her sister, Tara, who died of an asthma attack 24 years ago at the age of 16, leaving behind a lasting legacy through her writings, her faith and her love of creating beautiful things.

One of the writings Donahue found while going through her sister’s belongings after her passing included the Bible verse John 15:5, “I am the vine. You are the branches.”

That verse, Donahue said, stuck with her and inspired her to name her business Through the Grapevine, in Tara’s honor.

The simple design she uses for her rosaries mirrors that of one made and given to her by her sister when they were younger, and follows the traditional style of rosary, each bead standing for a part of the prayer.

“The rosary is like a journey through the life of Christ, through the eyes of Mary,” Donahue said. “So you’re meditating on his life and asking for Mary’s intercession and offering up petitions or whatever’s on our hearts.”

The beaded keepsakes fill the Donahue home, hanging from kitchen chairs, next to the fireplace and in the children’s bathroom.

Her devotion and faith in its power leads Donahue to pray the rosary with her family daily, oftentimes with specific intentions for loved ones.

“It’s really a beautiful prayer, and we have seen so many fruits and just so many little miracles that have come from it and that keeps us going,” she said.

Though open to sharing her faith and her pieces with anyone who asks, Donahue does not advertise, instead relying on word of mouth to grow the business.

Most of the orders Donahue receives are for custom creations, for which she collaborates with the customer to tailor the piece, from the colors to the centerpiece to the beads, to the intended recipient.

She sells both rosaries and other smaller jewelry, including bracelets and purse charms, through her online Etsy shop, Facebook, at conventions and at a stand at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Kalispell.

Right now, she and her children are gearing up for Christmas, their second-busiest season.

The biggest upswing in sales comes during what Donahue refers to as sacrament season, occurring in late winter and spring when people order rosaries for special events such as first Holy Communion, Easter, baptisms, weddings and other special occasions.

Last year she and her family made and sold around 200 rosaries during sacrament season. Altogether, Donahue estimated her family has sold over 1,000 rosaries, and she has repaired and restored many more.

Donahue’s second-youngest daughter, 9-year-old Reghan, made her first rosary at 5 years old and now helps teach her youngest sibling, 7-year-old Camryn, the art of counting and stringing the beads.

Kara, 14, said she can whip one up in around 15 minutes before handing it over to her mother to finish, as she does for every rosary they make.

According to Reghan, the money she and her siblings raise by selling their rosaries goes toward their summer camp funds or other activities they enjoy, but Donahue works to make sure they all understand the deeper meaning behind their creations.

“I think the most important thing for us is it’s just a way for us to share our faith and a way to share our love for our faith,” Donahue said. “To me it’s a great blessing to be able to make these special keepsakes.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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