Fr. Donald Calloway has one of the most amazing conversion stories I’ve ever come across. He was a modern day Augustine, wrapped up in all the wrong things (and even getting DEPORTED from Japan because things got so bad!) But then through a few providential encounters, which you’ll learn about below, he not only came to know God but discerned his calling to be a priest.
The rosary played a key role in his conversion, and ever since Fr. Calloway has become one of its greatest advocates. He just published a fantastic new book, titled Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, which looks at several saints who depended on this devotion. It’s masterfully written and very comprehensive. After just a few pages you’ll be inspired to pick up your beads and wield this powerful spiritual weapon.
Today, I sit down with Fr. Calloway to discuss his new book, the power of the rosary, and special tips for praying the rosary even if you struggle with it. Enjoy!
(NOTE: Fr. Calloway’s book keeps going out of stock because it’s selling like crazy, but if you’re lucky enough to find it in stock, you can order your copy here.)
BRANDON VOGT: I love your new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. At a hefty 420+ pages, I think it’s now THE definitive book on the rosary. But there are lots of rosary books available. Why this one?
FR. DONALD CALLOWAY: Yes, there are a lot of books on the rosary that have been written. Many of these books are very good and help a person pray their rosary with a particular intention in mind, for example, inner healing, for the souls in purgatory, etc.
However, after St. Louis de Montfort wrote The Secret of the Rosary in the early 18th century there has not been a book written that has offered a comprehensive look at the rosary that covers all of the miracles, battles, victories, developments, papal pronouncements, and heroes who have championed the rosary since the 18th century.
With libraries around the world at our fingertips today, all of these hidden historical treasures and insights need to be added to the story of the rosary.
BRANDON: The rosary and Our Lady both played a pivotal role in your conversion. For the whole story, readers should check out your memoir, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. But can you give us a summary of the roles they played?
FR. CALLOWAY: I often tell people that God drew me to himself by baiting me with the beauty and loveliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a young man, I was radically in pursuit of beauty but, as the saying goes, I was looking in all the wrong places. Things were so bad in my life that I dropped out of high school, went to two rehabilitation centers, was deported from the country of Japan for criminal activity (my step-father was a Naval officer at the time), and thrown in jail when I turned eighteen. Needless to say, I wasn’t a Church-goer; I didn’t even believe in God.
Yet, one night when I hit my ultimate rock bottom, I picked up a book that my recently converted parents had purchased and put on their bookshelf. It was about a woman named the Virgin Mary and alleged appearances that were happening to a group of small children. I was completely fascinated by the book and I read it in one night!
After reading that book, I went to a Catholic priest the very next day. The priest I talked to was incredible and it was an encounter that forever change my life and, ultimately, led me to become a Catholic.
During that same visit, I witnessed a group of Filipino women praying the rosary. At the time, I had no idea what they were doing but it only took me a week to join in with them and become a daily participant in their communal rosary before Mass. I attribute the daily prayer of the rosary to my discernment of my vocation to the priesthood. From the initial days of my conversion until now, I continue to pray the rosary every single day, and always have a rosary in my pocket. I’ve been a Catholic for twenty-three years now and a priest for over thirteen years.
BRANDON: In the book, you describe the rosary as “the sword of Our Lady.” How can this simple set of beads be a true spiritual weapon?
FR. CALLOWAY: Understanding the rosary as a spiritual weapon is vital to understanding why it is so powerful and the reasons for why heaven gave it to us. The rosary came into existence in the year 1208, when Our Lady appeared to St. Dominic and instructed him to use it as a weapon against falsehoods. The 13th century was a time of knights, battles, swords, and chivalry. By using a set of prayer beads containing the sacred mysteries of Jesus as the foundation of his preaching, St. Dominic wielded it as a spiritual sword against falsehoods and theological errors. I love the fact that during his lifetime Catholics wore the rosary on the left side of their belt to signify the side from which a knight withdrew his sword from its sheath.
While it is true that a set of prayer beads doesn’t look like a weapon, what gives the rosary its power is what can’t be seen with the human eye. What God and the angels (both holy and fallen) see that we can’t is that the rosary encapsulates and enshrines the saving mysteries of the God-Man. It is those mysteries that set us free from the bondage of Satan. This is why Satan hates the rosary and fears it so much. The rosary is a dragon slayer!
BRANDON: Per the book’s title, let’s talk about some of the champions of the rosary. Most of us know saints who loved the rosary, including St. Louis de Montfort, St. Therese, and St. John Paul II. But you cover 26 specific champions in your book. Who are some lesser known ones we should get to know?
FR. CALLOWAY: I would love to tell you about each one of the 26 champions, but I’ll give you a sampling and briefly mentioning four of them. For example, one champion that not too many people know about is Saint Anthony Mary Claret, the founder of the Claretians. During his life, he received several visions of the Virgin Mary in which she instructed him that he was to be the “new St. Dominic” of his time in his promotion of the rosary. As the archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, St. Anthony mandated that all his priests pray the rosary with the people on Sundays and Solemnities. To make sure this practice was being done, St. Anthony would make surprise visits to the parishes of his diocese and watch from the back pew!
Then there is Pope Leo XIII. He is the pope who promoted the rosary more than any other pope in Church history. During his pontificate, he wrote eleven encyclicals on the rosary, as well as numerous apostolic letters and exhortations. He gave us the famous Prayer to St. Michael and added the title “Our Lady of the Rosary” to the Litany of Loreto.
Another one of my favorite champions is Blessed Bartolo Longo. He was a layman who was once an ordained Satanic priest! As a college student he had abandoned the Catholicism of his youth and started attending séances. This eventually led him to being ordained in an evil cult. After having suffered from nightmares, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts, he talked to a Dominican priest and had a profound conversion. The Dominican priest told him about the power of the rosary, which led Bartolo to renounce the occult, become a Third Order Dominican, and initiate the construction of the world’s most famous Shrine dedicated to the rosary: The Pontifical Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, Italy. He was beatified in 1980 by St. John Paul II.
Then there’s Blessed James Alberione. He was the founder of ten religious institutes, including the Daughters of St. Paul, and rarely gave a talk without having first prayed a rosary beforehand. Whenever he traveled anywhere, he would always invite those around him to pray the rosary and he would pray it continuously until he reached his destination!
This is but a snippet of the many interesting facts about some of the greatest champions of the rosary in the church. I wish I could give a detailed account of every champion of the rosary here, but I’ll leave that as an incentive for people to get the book. In the book, I offer in-depth presentations on the 26 greatest champions, as well as presenting over 200 other individuals who greatly championed the rosary.
BRANDON: What advice would you give someone who has tried praying the rosary, but just finds it dull or engaging?
FR. CALLOWAY: I would remind them that even saints struggled with praying the rosary. Yet, it is important to remember that those who love Jesus and Mary never give up! Even though some saints struggled with praying the rosary, none of them ever gave up. For example, St. Thérèse of Lisieux often mentioned how difficult it was for her to pray the rosary and meditate on the mysteries, but she also noted that she gave it her best effort and knew that since Mary was her spiritual mother Our Lady knew Thérèse’s heart and accepted whatever she gave her.
Personally, I think everyone gets distracted and experiences their mind wandering during the rosary. We are not angels or robots, and do not have the ability to ponder one thing for long periods of time without other thoughts coming to our mind. No one should panic over this or give up praying the rosary because of it. To help with this, we have the blessing today of having beautiful little pamphlets that have images for each mystery on them. Many people have found that if they gaze upon a visual image of each mystery they get less distracted and are able to meditate easier.
BRANDON: As a father of young kids, I’m asked all the time how to instill a deeper prayer life at home. I’m assuming you’d recommend families pray the rosary together. But what are some tips or strategies to make it fruitful, especially for families with small children?
FR. CALLOWAY: The family rosary is very powerful and there have been many popes and saints who have promoted it. However, popes and saints also know that young children can become rambunctious during a twenty-minute prayer commitment. This is why many holy people have recommended that a good method to follow when young children are involved is to pray a decade as a family every evening, but save the praying the entire rosary (one set of mysteries) for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.
I would also suggest that in order to instill in young children an understanding of what they are doing when they pray the rosary, it can help to describe each mystery to them and then have them draw the mystery and color it in with crayons. This is a creative way of helping young children understand the rosary in a deeper and more childlike way.
For those interested in obtaining a copy of Fr. Calloway’s new book Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, it can be purchased on Fr. Calloway’s website, FatherCalloway.com, or via Amazon.com.