GREENWOOD -- Cassandra and Jay Poppe moved from Chicago to Greenwood, Ark., with their four children three years ago, looking for a simpler lifestyle and a good environment in which to raise a family.
At the same time the Poppes, parishioners at Sts. Sabina and Mary Church in Jenny Lind, were being led on a spiritual journey.
"I had been raised Catholic," Cassandra Poppe said, "but watching my husband's conversion made me appreciate all the wonderfulness of the Catholic faith."
In the spring 2004, Poppe was praying the rosary during a family crisis. Although she bought a rosary when she took her mother on a pilgrimage to Ireland, she hadn't prayed it in so long that she had to go to a Web site, http://www.virtualrosary.com, to relearn the devotion.
As she started praying the rosary daily, she became inspired to teach her children the prayers so that they would never be in the situation she found herself in as an adult.
Poppe homeschools her four children -- Ryan, 12; Logan, 8; Shannon, 6; and C.J., 4.
"I realized that children needed to learn how to pray the rosary, not just the mechanics, but what it means to meditate on Christ's life, what Mary's role was, and the bigger picture," she said. "I also realized that children are no longer being trained in virtues. Seeing my interest in the rosary, a friend mailed me 'The Secrets of the Rosary' by St. Louis de Montfort, which ascribes a particular virtue to each of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries."
St. Louis de Montfort, a 17th century saint and founder of the Sisters of Wisdom and the Company of Mary, was known throughout his life for the virtues of constant prayer, love of the poor, poverty and joy in all circumstances.
In order to introduce her children to the daily rosary and teach them the virtues, Poppe designed simple quilts for each one. The 2-foot-by-3-foot quilts display a fabric rosary with a felt cross and medal, but without any beads.
"We use silk rose petals for our beads," Poppe said.
Poppe said it helps her children stay focused on Christian values all day.
"During the day, when I catch my children practicing the virtues we are learning in our daily prayers, I give them rose petals to put in the pockets on the side of their rosary quilts. At the end of the day they can take their petals out and place them on their quilts to offer to Mary as a gift so she can spruce them up and present them to Jesus."
Poppe has shared her quilts with other homeschool families. She said rose petals are just one way to create the beads. She has seen families of young children use other items to mark the prayers -- even matchbox cars.
Using St. Louis' book with her own children, she began to see how incorporating his ideas into a parent activity book would help her and other parents grow in faith and teach the rosary to their children. She designed the book as a 20-week course.
Each mystery is described in a summary, including suggested Bible verses and a description of the virtue attached to the mystery. Stories of how different saints practiced these virtues in their lives and other suggested enrichment exercises for practicing the virtues throughout the week follow each summary.
Although Poppe shared her quilt and book with a few people she knew, she waited a year before introducing it to a larger audience. In that year, she has grown in her faith and taken her new knowledge, along with feedback from families she shared the quilt with, and revised her book.
Some families asked her to include more information about the saints and Bible stories to be used for meditation on the individual mysteries.
Two teachers at St. Boniface School in Fort Smith bought quilts and books to use with their classes.
Poppe is currently creating a set of instructions to help families create their own rosary quilts.
"The Lord did not bless me with good sewing skills," she laughed, "but I try."
She has made a rosary quilt for each of her four children but realizes that could become unwieldy for some families.
Her book, "The Rosary Quilt Activity Book," is currently self-published, but she is looking to get it professionally published because of the initial interest and response she's had to her ministry.
Families wishing to learn more about the rosary quilt project can contact Poppe at P.O. Box 122, Fort Smith, AR 72902.
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