History of the Catenian Rosary Group

As at 10 May 2022.
This history is being written so that, in the future, anyone who is interested can know the truth of how the Rosary Group commenced and has developed.

The June 2002 issue of Catena had a picture of Don & Nina Strivens of Norwich Circle No 86, James & Elinor Crighton of Dundee & Perth Circle No 110 and Eugene & May Doyle of Poole Circle No 244. They were on the Cruise Liner Aurora and Nina had formed a Rosary Group to which all the Catholics on board were invited to join. The article accompanying the picture mentioned that William & Muriel Britto of Norwood Circle No 88 had also joined the cruise at Singapore.

The heading of the Catena picture and article was ‘Rosary Group All at Sea!’ This struck a chord in the mind of Michael Blackburn of the Halifax Circle No 170. Michael loves the Rosary, finds it a very prayerful and peaceful way of praying, as well as giving the opportunity of meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary. Into Michael’s head came the thought ‘What about the landlubbers?’ Would it be an idea to gather together anyone interested in the Holy Rosary and commence a Catenian Rosary Group?

The first thing to be done was to contact all those mentioned in the June Catena article commencing with Nina Strivens who had had the original idea. All those contacted were in favour of the idea of a Catenian Group. Including Michael that gave nine potential members of the proposed group.

But Michael was able to increase that number. A few years earlier, while on holiday, Michael had picked up a Diocesan Newspaper of the Northampton Diocese. In it were details of an Anti-Abortion Rosary Crusade which was organised by a Mrs Anna Row. Following a letter to Catena several Catenians had joined that Crusade and now they were contacted to ask whether they would be in favour of a Catenian Rosary Group. This brought the number of those interested to twenty-one from twelve Circles. In the October 2002 Catena the group was announced.

The Original members were:-
Michael Blackburn Halifax Circle; William & Muriel Britto Norwood Circle; James & Elinor Crighton Dundee & Perth Circle; Eugene & May Doyle Poole Circle.; Michael & Margaret Foster Scarborough Circle; Robin Haig Wilmslow Circle; John & Veronica Hall Leeds 3 Circle; Wilf L Jones Nottingham 20 Circle; Brian & Celine McGill Purley Circle; Don & Nina Strivens Norwich & District Circle; David & Geraldine Stuart Hull Circle; William & Noreen White Somerset West Circle.

What we did not know was that The Holy Father had designated October 2002 to October 2003 as “The Year of The Holy Rosary”. Dare we suggest that it was guidance from the Holy Spirit and Our Lady which led to this ‘coincidence’?

Starting a new Group is not easy. What should the group be called? What should be its ‘terms of reference?’ ‘How should it be promoted?’ Many telephone calls later it was agreed that, as a matter of courtesy, we should ask Grand Council for permission to use the name ‘Catenian’. This was granted and the Group became known as The Catenian Rosary Group.

During the early days Robin Haig gave a lot of advice and it was only later that Michael Blackburn discovered that Robin is a Solicitor. So, thanks to Robin, his sound advice helped the group to start on a firm foundation.
An early member was Michael Hull of the Wigan Circle. Michael has proved to be excellent at obtaining new members. The Wigan Circle is very supportive of the Rosary Group. Since then Albert Eckersley joined and visited Circles tirelessly in obtaining new members.
The Catenian 2003 AGM was in Harrogate and we were able to have a stall promoting the CRG. It was very successful including having a visit from Coadjutor Bishop Arthur Roche who had addressed the AGM meeting. At the end of his address, as he came down the walkway, he looked across and saw The Catenian Rosary Group Stand. He raised his hand in the air as a sign of approval and came to the stall for a chat. Afterwards Michael wrote and thanked him. His reply said that on his Ad Limina visit to the Holy Father in October 2003 he would tell the Holy Father of what we are doing! Amazing! Since then the exhibition stand has been taken to the Liverpool 2004 AGM the Torquay 2005 AGM (where it attracted the attention of His Eminence James Francis Cardinal Stafford), the Cardiff AGM 2007 the 2008 100h Anniversary AGM in Manchester and the Harrogate 2009 AGM and the 2018 Telford AGM.

Up to now the Catena Editor, Gil Whale, sadly no longer with us, has not been mentioned. He is mentioned now, not only because he and his wife Sue came to visit the Harrogate 2003 Catenian Stand and join the Rosary Group. Without Gil’s support in Catena, the Rosary Group would never have got started. Gil gave us space at the start and had continued to be very supportive. We are ever grateful to him. We note that his successor and current Catena Editor, James Power is equally supportive and likewise we are also grateful for this

In the first few months of The Group we had different Petitions for each month though one wise brother had told Michael that it would probably not work. He was right. It sounds practical but depends on getting that information to all members of the group. As the group expands it would become ever more difficult and, eventually, after more telephone calls and letters, it was decided that each month’s petition would be for ‘Our Lady’s Intentions,’ except in May when it will be for ‘The Catenian Association and Those Taking Office.’

By February 2003 we had had no members from Australia.. Since then Brendan McGurk of the City of Perth Circle has joined. At that time he was he editor of the Western Link and never missed an opportunity of mentioning the Rosary Group. Since then brothers from nineteen Australian Circles have joined. During the first few months of the Group a special Petition had been offered for the Circles in Zimbabwe, who, due to the tense political situation in that country, were having an extremely difficult time. The Front Cover of the March 2003 edition of Catena showed a huge queue of cars, completely blocking a wide street, all trying to get to a filling station for petrol. Except that the picture proved it, it would have been unbelievable to think that such circumstances existed.

In the May 2003 issue of Catena Mike Glenshaw of the Bulawayo Circle wrote explaining his Circle’s love of the Holy Rosary. They pray the Rosary before every meeting and also in the months of May and October and in times of drought or whenever other stressful obstacles are thrown in their way. That has to be the guiding light for all Circles to follow. Sadly, because we don’t live with their pressures, it is unlikely that any U. K. Circles will follow that lead. Mike, his wife Sylvia, and several other Bulawayo brothers and wives have joined the Rosary Group. Harare and North Harare also have Rosary Group members.
In early January 2009 we received an e-mail from Brother Deacon Tony Cunningham of Bracknell Forest Circle. Brother Tony is working with Aboriginal people in a poor diocese in the Northern Territory of Australia. He had an urgent need for Rosaries. This need was reported in a letter to Catena and the response was amazing. Within four months Brother Tony had received over 5,000 Rosaries and since then the total has exceeded all our expectations. On reflection we must realise that Our Lady knew that these Rosaries were lying idle in drawers and cupboards and just needed to get them into the hands of those who pray them with devotion. Bro. Tony reports many lapsed, both original and white, have returned to their faith due to the Rosaries. Since then the work has spread to Third World Countries in Africa, to Islands in the Pacific Ocean and to Prisoners in the Philippines.

In September 2010 we had a request from both Australia and South Africa for a leaflet on ‘How to Pray the Rosary’. We have been providing professional glossy leaflets but they are not cheap and as we have no money we decided to produce a leaflet ourselves. It is an A4 sheet when folded twice gives a reasonably strong pocket size leaflet which cuts cost and enables many hundreds to be printed. It is now in use in Australia and countries in Africa. It can be obtained on the Rosary Web Site www.catenianrosary.com and follow the link to Rosary Leaflet.
We are now committed to obtaining permission from Archbishops/Bishops/Diocesan Administrators to contact all the Parish Priests in their Diocese to get them to appeal, for Rosaries on the Parish Bulletins. We are over of half way through the Diocese of England and Wales and the response is wonderful. We are receiving thousands of Rosaries. Later we intend to continue the appeal in the Diocese of Scotland.

By April 2017 Bros Albert Eckersley and John Riley, two stalwarts of the Rosary Group, had died. Bro Tony Gregson came on board to assist Bro Michael Blackburn. At the same time Bro Kevin Prendergast of the Chester Circle commenced a new apostolate of ‘Rosaries to Schools’ under the ‘Catenian Rosary Group’ banner following discussions with Michael’. This was because some free Rosaries had been given to his local primary school – St Clare’s in Chester – and the head teacher Marian Ryder had been “humbled and amazed” by the children’s voluntary response. Subsequently with permission from 34 Bishops in the British Isles and the Irish republic 55,000 new children’s multi-coloured Rosaries were dispatched on request to approximately 700 primary schools, together with ‘How to Pray the Rosary ‘ cards This was achieved with the help of donations from brothers and circles mainly in Province 4 as well as a few private generous benefactors. It is hoped that Grand Council, Provincial Councils and Circles will support this work which is to the ultimate benefit of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
At all times Our Lady is in charge. We just move the paper work around!

In March 2018, Mike Bunting also of Chester Circle came to help Kevin and Michael and as noted in the July 2018 Catena, Michael is now stepping back from ‘front-line’ service and now surplus and spare Rosaries and also the supply to Prisons in England and Wales is being handled by Mike.

This work commenced in September 2015 on the advice of Sister Janet Fearns F.M.D.M. I first got to know Sister Janet after, some 26 years ago, reading an article she had written in The Tablet. She was working as a midwife in an African backwater hospital where few came to visit. I wrote offering my sympathy and financial help and our friendship commenced. (It was later that I came to realise when a talented lady she is!) Shortly after our first contact she was moved to an African Radio Station which advised women on health problems and men on good farming practises.

A few years later she was at the Vatican Radio Station reporting on the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. A few years later she was in London working at the Southwark Diocese. From there she moved to Missio where she worked for several years until she was, I suspect headhunted, by a catholic publishing company in Surrey.

When I found that I had many thousand plastic Rosaries which need good homes I contacted Sister Janet ask whether she could give me the names of Missionary Priests and Nuns in the U.K. who would be able to take the Rosaries to the Missions. Her reply was “Why not send them to the Prisons in the U.K.?” Excellent suggestion as it meant we could afford the U.K. parcel costs (£2.80 for a 2K parcel ) which are much less than the overseas Australia and South Africa surface mail costs (£13.26 for a 2K parcel). Sister Janet put us in touch with Fr Roger Reader (CBCEW Prisons Adviser) who told us that there are several thousand prisons in the U.K. who would welcome receiving Rosaries. This work, in November 2017, transferred to Fr Paul Douthwaite, the new National Catholic Chaplain for Prisons for England and Wales.

As soon as the word got out about our offer the flood gates opened. The request for Rosaries for prisons was like a deluge. We had much to learn. For security reasons most prisons are only able to accept plastic Rosaries which soon break and can’t cause damage. We learnt that prisons prefer only one colour of Rosaries. If several colours are provided then they can be used by gangs – the red gang against the blue gang etc.!

On the positive side some prisons have Prayer Groups, learn to pray the Rosary and have a good attendance at Holy Mass.

To date (April 2024) we have sent 789,120 Rosaries to Missions , schools (both Primary and Secondary) and also to Prisons of England and Wales

Please send Rosaries to: Mike Bunting, Rivendell, Denbigh Road, MOLD, Flintshire CH7 1BL. Telephone number 01352 753736