Priest says rosary saved his family, inspired vocation

One of the greatest sources of power that Father Patrick DeMeulemeester has encountered in his life has nothing to do with nuclear weapons systems or high political office. It is the rosary and he credits the devotion not only for his vocation but for the very survival of his family in Belgium during World War II.

The pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Granville and St. Patrick’s Parish in Hennepin, he reflected on the power of the rosary as part of the program for the annual Women’s Day of Recollection sponsored last Saturday by the Bishop’s Commission on Women in the Church and in Society. As Father DeMeulemeester began his remarks at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria, he thanked commission members for inviting him to speak about “something that is very dear to my heart.”

He said his love for the rosary began during his childhood in East Moline. Confessing that he was “a little pest of a kid,” Father DeMeulemeester said he often begged his mother, Goldie, to tell him stories about Mary, Lourdes, the saints or her own faith life. One of his favorite stories came from her childhood in Ruiselede, Belgium, and how the rosary protected her family during the war.

“My grandmother, my mom’s mom, had a great devotion to the rosary. She would make sure that the entire family — that included my great-grandfather, my grandparents, my mom and her eight brothers and sisters — every evening after supper would pray the rosary together,” Father DeMeulemeester told commission members and their guests. “If there was company that came during that time, they were encouraged to join in the rosary. Some just came to join in the rosary.”

Father DeMeulemeester said that during World War II Vanoost decided they needed to make an extra sacrifice to keep them safe and to pray for peace in the world, so they started walking to church for their daily rosary.

“One day, though, the Germans were retreating out of Belgium and they had orders,” the priest said. “They had orders to destroy and to kill.”

Two of his uncles got caught in the gunfire while working in the fields and they ran home to take shelter in the root cellar. One German soldier followed them and found the extended family praying the rosary when he arrived.

“The German points his gun, his weapon, at my family, and he starts to shake. He starts to cry,” Father DeMeulemeester said. “He puts down his weapon and he says, ‘I have a family, a wife and children back in Germany. I pray to God they might be safe.'” Then the soldier told them not to make a noise or go outside. The Vanoosts remained huddled inside the root cellar all night and when they emerged the next morning they saw devastation everywhere — except their own property.

“You see? It’s the rosary,” his grandmother said. Father DeMeulemeester said they continued to pray the rosary.

“I was really struck by that,” he told those gathered in a conference room at the Spalding Pastoral Center. “As a little kid I was thinking, ‘Hey, this has got power.'”

“Sometimes people say, ‘It’s just a repetition of prayers. I don’t get anything out of it,'” Father DeMeulemeester said. “But the rosary is not only a vocal but a meditative prayer. It is a meditation upon the mysteries of God.”

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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