Millions of beads, countless prayers

North Texas Catholic
(May 8, 2024) Local

Ruth Billen with rosary in hand

Ruth Billen, a Sacred Heart parishioner, has created and given away more than 50,000 rosaries. (NTC/Thomas Otto)

In the late 1950s when Ruth Billen was a teenager, her father Henry Veith went on a pilgrimage to a holy site where the Blessed Virgin Mary, nearly a century prior to his arrival, had appeared 18 times to a young Bernadette Soubirous in a small town in Lourdes, France. Upon Veith’s return, he gifted an array of souvenirs and presents to the family, but only to his daughter did he gift a rosary. 

“Dad didn’t talk much, but I always wondered why I was the only one he bought a rosary for,” Billen reminisced. “I didn’t question it then, but now it’s clear to me that it was in God’s plan.”

At some point, that first rosary broke, but she believed she could fix it.

“I said I can do that. I can make one myself,” she said.

Now 88, Billen has made 50,226 rosaries and 3,166 scapulars, all of which she has given away. 

The longtime parishioner of Sacred Heart in Wichita Falls said she always enjoyed making rosaries with beads and chain rather than the knotted-string kind.

She bought her supplies from Our Lady’s Rosary Makers based in Louisville, Kentucky, and would return the completed rosaries to them, where they would be shipped to priests and missions around the world.

In their 1997 newsletter, the nonprofit published a photo of Father Raymond Nuliola of Talasari, India, with 20 young boys fanned around him, each holding a rosary she’d created. 

Billen has given the rosaries to various people in her community, including local and visiting priests to share with faithful in other counties or countries. 
Teaching others how to make them has helped create some of her most memorable experiences. 

Billen recalled the hardest babysitting job she had in her youth. A naughty six-year-old was mean and consistently found herself in trouble at school.

“But somehow, she changed when she saw the rosary beads,” Billen said with a soft chuckle. “She let me teach her how to make rosaries. And there was no more bossing me around.

“I told her people would pray on the rosaries, and she was so glad,” Billen said.

When the girl asked for her own rosary, Billen asked her mother for permission, since her family wasn’t Catholic. Her mother said yes, and the girl soon had a crystal rosary in hand. After that, bedtime was no longer a problem as it had been before.

“She wanted to go to bed early and pray the Rosary,” Billen said.

Rosary making is the activity that has brought her the most joy over the years, Billen said. 

“Oh, I couldn’t wait to make them. All the other housework would have to pretty well go,” she said laughing. Even as a teen and young adult, making the prayer beads was her favorite pastime. 

Although she can no longer see well enough to make rosaries due to macular degeneration of her eyes, Billen hopes people will read about her devotion to the art of rosary making and inspire others to continue the small ministry in her stead.


Ruth Billen, rosary, Sacred Heart Parish, Wichita Falls, trending-english