Men’s faith formation has been a pet project of mine for the last half of my 26 years as a priest. Among many things, I ‘ve wanted us men to rediscover the treasury of Catholic devotions. If men are going to be the spiritual leaders of their own domestic church, we simply must explore these time-tested and Church approved jewels of our Catholic life.Share
As I poured myself into this endeavor, I was struck by how effeminate many of the sacramentals tended to be. It’s no wonder men are inclined to see these devotions as “what women do.” In particular, most of the rosaries looked like women’s jewelry. I began to scour the internet to find something truly masculine in a rosary. Sure, there were the classic black or brown bead rosaries, but they still seemed weak to me.
One day I happened upon a very intriguing rosary among some of the collectors’ websites. It was tough. It was strong. It had a kind of gravitas to it. This was truly a man’s rosary. As I read the description, it turned out I was looking at an original World War I military rosary. As described, it was commissioned and procured by, believe it or not, the U.S. government and issued by the military, upon request, to soldiers serving in World War I. Some of these rosaries were also seen in WWII. All of these rosaries were made around 1916. Awesome!!
Now I was really intrigued. I began doing some research on these military rosaries, and I discovered that there were some knock-offs made since the originals in 1916. I wanted to stay clear of those, if I was going to take the dive and purchase an authentic World War I military rosary. So, what made these authentic?
It turns out that there are certain key elements to the original rosaries. The beads were the kind of beads one sees used for making dog tags. Some call them “lamp pull chain” beads. The government, after trying some prototypes in early production, discovered the best metal for avoiding rust and blacking was a silver washed brass or bronze. While all of the crucifixes are not the same, none of them had company marks on the back (the backs are blank) and they were all silver washed, brass crucifixes. Most of the crucifixes had a swirl or the letters INRI at the end of each cartouche. All of these rosaries measured between 16-17 inches, depending upon the size of the crucifix they used.
I found it very curious that I would occasionally come across a silver or gold plated rosary among collectors. It turn out that many veterans credited their survival to these rosaries. So, after the war, they went to a jeweler to have them gold-plated or silver-plated.
The most interesting and most identifying feature of these military rosaries was their center medals. The front of the medal always had some image of the Blessed Mother, which was usually Our Lady of Sorrows. But it is the back of this center medal that gives it away as an authentic 1916 World War I military rosary. They all had the same image of Jesus carrying his cross. This symbolized the burdens these soldiers were willing to shoulder for the sake of our freedom. (Read more.)