Father Richard Heilman believes in the reality of a spiritual war, one in which the rosary is a powerful weapon. To get men to wield that weapon, however, he knew he needed one that looked like it belonged to a warrior. When he found a 1916 metal rosary manufactured by the U.S. government for the military and sometimes called the “service rosary,” he said, “this is it.”
WEAPON FOR WARRIORS
Using it as a model, Father Heilman, a priest in the Diocese of Madison, WI, set about producing what he now calls the “Combat Rosary,” a string of beads that looks like a metal pull-chain, but with the addition of a special crucifix and two medals.
“I wanted it to be a powerful supernatural weapon, so I picked the Miraculous Medal and added the St. Benedict Medal as well and then . . . the Pardon Crucifix. It’s the only one that if you carry or kiss it, you receive an indulgence.”
Father Heilman was able to get a prototype made in a matter of weeks and then arranged to have enough rosaries produced for the Knights of Divine Mercy, a men’s apostolate he started. After that modest start in 2007, he said, “It kind of took off from there. People would see [the rosaries] and want one.”
Demand eventually grew to the point that Father Heilman approached his sister, Judy Balistreri, a benefits-administration executive, about taking over production and sales. With the help of her husband, another brother and niece, Balistreri now owns and runs Roman Catholic Gear, the online store that sells the “Combat Rosary” and other related religious articles. Most of the proceeds from sales are donated to parishes, pro-life and military organizations, and other charitable groups.
Father Heilman, who also is co-host of the U.S. Grace Force podcast, developed the “Combat Rosary” after noticing that many rosaries looked more like women’s jewelry or even children’s toys. If he was going to get men to pray the rosary and inspire them to be the providers and protectors of their families, he knew they would be more likely to pick up something that looked like it belonged to a guy engaged in battle.
“I am a strong proponent of us restoring a sense of the supernatural, that there is a battle, and there is such a thing as a devil.” Drawing from Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s 2015 apostolic exhortation, which calls on Catholic men to “step into the breach,” Father Heilman said men can protect their families from evil and call down supernatural grace and blessings from God. “We’ve known for centuries now that God has given us this amazing weapon of the rosary as a way to call upon Mary, who was said to crush the head of the serpent . . . I wanted to frame it that the rosary truly is a weapon that men are given. As Pope Pius IX said, ‘Give me an army saying the rosary and I will conquer the world.’”
MEN CALLED TO CRUSADE
Father Heilman said many men have always known it is beneficial to pray to the Blessed Mother, but to see the rosary as a weapon for warfare has resonated with many of them. “I think we all have a sense, especially in the era we’re living in now, that evil is being very aggressive so a lot of people, particularly men, are saying, ‘What can we do?’ Seeing this onslaught of evil and having that in their bones – this desire to be the providers and protectors of the family – once they understand the power of the rosary, it becomes something they feel very called to take on in their life.”
Dave Yanke, a father of nine from the Madison diocese and a Knights of Divine Mercy member, said he thinks saying the rosary on his “combat” beads has made him think about praying in a more manly way. Interestingly, he said, it was around the time he got his first “Combat Rosary” from Father Heilman that he began to take more seriously his faith as well as his role as spiritual leader of his family. “I went from going to Mass because my wife thought that was what we should do, to kind of taking that role over and leading the family to Mass, leading the rosary, leading prayers, and suggesting we do things.”
Yanke said his first impression of the “Combat Rosary” was, “Boy, this is cool.” He especially liked that the beads were metal. “My gut reaction was this is something that a man would like to carry around. It’s masculine.”
Initially, he said, he hung his “Combat Rosary” on his bed and used it at night if he awoke and couldn’t go back to sleep. But now that his family says the rosary together before Sunday Mass, he keeps it in his suit coat. “I save it for Sundays. It’s my prize rosary.”
ARMOR FOR SWISS GUARD
The “Combat Rosary” also is the official rosary of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. After Father Heilman donated 150 of the rosaries to the Guard in 2016, Col. Christoph Graf, the Guard commander, held up one before a group of new recruits and told them that they were receiving “the most powerful weapon that exists on the market . . . Literally, the rosary for the fight.”
To enhance their appeal to men, the “Combat Rosary” comes with a leather pocket-sized combat pouch and a “Concealed Carry Card.” Roman Catholic Gear also sells “spiritual ammo tins” to hold the rosaries.
Balistreri said although the “Combat Rosary” was designed to inspire men to pray the rosary, women love it as well. She uses one herself and, when it comes to sales, has found that there is no typical customer. “Honestly, it’s a rosary for all spiritual warriors, regardless of age or gender.” Likewise, the rosaries have been shipped all over the world.
54-DAY NOVENA AGAINST CORONAVIRUS
As the impact of the coronavirus was felt globally, many who use the “Combat Rosary” joined in a 54-day “Three Hearts Novena for Protection and Provision,” announced by Father Heilman on his RomanCatholicMan. com website. The novena, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Chaste Heart of St. Joseph, began March 9 and was to conclude May 1.
“We are praying against the coronavirus with 60,000 people right now,” Father Heilman said in March. “Most carry the ‘Combat Rosary’ and see it as an effective weapon against this evil.” The band of prayer warriors included a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who emailed Father Heilman to say he has a “Combat Rosary” and was praying the novena.
BEST FAMILY TOGETHERNESS
In developing the “Combat Rosary” and other spiritual articles, Father Heilman has drawn on his priestly knowledge as well as a business and marketing background passed on to him by his grandfather and father. His grandfather was a founding executive of Oscar Mayer and his father, who also worked for the company, started his own merchandising business for chain grocery stores. Father Heilman said he and his six siblings grew up working in the company warehouse.
“It was a way for the family to be together. I have extremely fond memories of that family business so that was a big part of this. It’s almost like reliving those days now.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.