For 11 months out of the year, Charles Gendusa sits up at night threading beads onto string, crafting thousands of rosaries.
It is a form of prayer, the 75-year-old retiree says, and it’s good therapy, a way to relax.
But it is also a ministry.
He gives the rosaries to the sick, needy or anyone else who wants to pray.
“You know you’re giving something back to the church and the people,” Gendusa says.
He has made more than 1,000 red, white and green rosaries for the upcoming St. Joseph’s Altar at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, where the sick and their families come for prayer. Large plastic bins in his dining room fill with the prayer beads made in the colors of the Italian flag, a nod to his heritage and to the traditional altars made for the man considered the patron saint for parts of Italy.
“I don’t complain,” Gendusa said. “I just thoroughly enjoy this.”
In his Baton Rouge condo, Gendusa sits in his recliner and watches television — usually something like “Downton Abbey” his wife, Kathleen, has recorded — or listens to Johnny Mathis or Michael Bublé. On a tray in his lap he keeps neat collections of red, white and green beads and small white crosses.
His hands never hurt, he says, but making rosaries has become his main hobby since a sore back forced him to play less golf.Gendusa makes dozens of rosaries each night, often staying up to midnight.
Sometimes he prays the rosary while he works.
“It makes me feel good to sit here and do this,” he says. “We need more people saying the rosary. Especially the way this country is going, the way things are happening.”
All of his life the Catholic church has been there, Gendusa says. From his childhood in Algiers to flying on a submarine finder during the Cuban Missile Crisis and working as a purchasing manager and raising his family in Harvey, he has counted on his religion for guidance.
“I love my church,” he says. “The church has been a big part of my life all my life.”
Seven years ago, the Gendusas moved from their home in Harvey, where they had lived for decades, to Baton Rouge and became active in a new parish, St. Patrick Catholic Church.
Gendusa’s cousin in Greenwell Springs, Rosemary Wofford, taught him to make rosaries, and they assembled some for their old church in Harvey. Then the Gendusas were introduced to the Cypress Springs center and liked Sister Dulce Maria’s mission, praying with the sick and the injured for healing.
The couple began volunteering there regularly.
A few years ago when the center decided to start a St. Joseph’s Altar just weeks before the saint’s feast day, Gendusa was skeptical it could be done. But he worked day and night for weeks, says Debi Grymer, who works at Cypress Springs.
“He was such a huge instrument and has been ever since,” she says.
The next year the altar grew, so Gendusa decided to make rosaries to give away in treat bags along with cookies and a prayer card. He made 350. They were gone in an hour.
The next year he made 600, and they were gone in two hours. Now he makes more than 1,000 rosaries, filling plastic bins in his living room and garage.
Kathleen Gendusa does her part, making thousands of frosted almond and anise-flavored cookies.
Gendusa makes an additional 2,000 rosaries for Cypress Springs in various colors to give away to those who visit the center for prayers of healing and assembles a few hundred more for other causes. He’ll take a break for a few weeks after St. Joseph’s feast day.
Gendusa buys all the beads, string and crosses himself, spending about 50 to 75 cents per rosary. He refuses to accept any money.
But he loves to see children come for prayer with Sister Dulce and pick out a rosary to take home.
“Their expression means more to me than anything,” he says. “That’s payment for me.”