Once upon a time …
How many times have you read a story which began with these words? Oddly, this one could — but there is a story within this story: the first one seems just like one of those “tales” except there are eyewitnesses and secular and religious newspaper reports about it, and now the book The Rosary that Grew Flowers, a recently published registered historical non-fiction.
The title I think, in itself, should warrant pause and attention. My journey of writing it is another story, though. To me, the work seemed like another “miracle” or more so, part of God’s grand scheme of life for me, for nothing which happened to me involving this work or book was by coincidence.
The book’s story began in July, 1928, when a young man died in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. Michael Kusko had suffered a broken back working at one of the local collieries. After spending the next five years in the small hospital a little more than a mile from his home, he died. As he was dying, his Mom, traded her rosary for his. Both of them were devout Catholics who prayed the Rosary daily. They used these rosaries to pray to Jesus through Mary His Mother. Michael’s Mom said that her rosary, until then, had not been used by anyone else since she had them. He was praying with them in his last hours.
After Michael died, his family brought him home to have his wake, and reportedly, within a few minutes after the funeral director wound those rosaries around his hands, they began to bloom flowers: lilies and roses.
Once the word spread, visitors from the entire region traveled to visit what was deemed by the reports as a “miracle.” The town teemed and bustled with visitors, requiring extra police directing the dense traffic of people, carriages and “machines” (auto vehicles).
The beads kept blooming through the three days of the wake; 23 of the 52 beads had flowers. They stopped only when the rosary was removed from Michael’s hands. At that time, with family permission, the rosary was moved to his parish church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in his home town of Lansford. According to his pastor, this was to give his family some privacy.
Every paper and magazine writer of the time drew the same conclusion: this blooming rosary was a miraculous event. One newspaper even reported another miracle when a woman who came from Mauch Chunk (today’s Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania) was cured of her malady after visiting the wake of the deceased.
This globally reported story was then buried in time by the stock market crash in ’29 and Great Depression to follow. It seemed that even the relatives of those who had witnessed those blooming rosaries had never told their children or grandchildren.
Story Two (my story) begins sometime in the early 2000s when a volunteer from another town’s historical society found the front page article in the paper from the bordering county, Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He copied it and filed it for himself, forgetting about it. In 2013, he found it again and called the historical society in Lansford where this occurred. The man there had no knowledge of it. This gentleman then asked a local newspaper writer if he could look into this. Out of that work came a December 2013 newspaper story about that event, opening another investigation — by me, the writer of the book.
This work took three years. After searching, following leads, researching and reading more reports, finding and interviewing eyewitnesses, and discovering family members, the book was born: The Rosary that Grew Flowers.
My own family had witnessed this event but I never knew it until I asked my aunt about it after the story broke in 2013.
Interestingly, it was after her telling us about it in January 2012, that my aunt suddenly felt she knew why she had “lived so long.” At 95 and struggling with some serious health troubles in those later years, during our frequent visits she would often muse, “I wonder why God left me here all these years.”
I used to tell her, “You still have work to do, Aunt Mary, and God knows what it is.” Indeed He did.
After losing my mom in 2011, I always felt that she was my godsend to help me through my grief. After two years, I knew wholeheartedly she truly was a godsend to me and for another reason. My own aunt had witnessed the rosaries with flowers and had never told us. After the article appeared in the 2013 paper and I asked her, it was in January 2014 when she told the story. That was the beginning of my journey.
God had led me home where I’d grown up to heal and recover from life’s previous demands. It was here my new work was laid out: the research and writing for this book. The three next years (2014-17) were cramped and bustling with research: requesting news releases and finding the many stories written, reading them, comparing and contrasting the reports to boil down the hard evidence contained within them.
In working, I found new leads to investigate, thus making discovery longer. All that while Aunt Mary, staunch in not wanting any spotlight, simply prayed for my efforts, listened to my findings and offered new possibilities of information. Though Aunt Mary didn’t live to see the final book, I understand that she got her crown and notoriety in another place. In her final years, she truly became a light in my new work and journey – mostly through her everyday faith which I witnessed time and again in our frequent visits.
On the day when the final proof was to go to the printer, the last puzzle piece I had sought for three years unexpectedly arrived via email from the United Kingdom: a story from Universe magazine. According to Fr. Hudson of the University of Notre Dame, a priest, then in Egypt, had read the story in that magazine, proving the news was widely noted.
Since its first printing, I had originally hoped that The Rosary that Grew Flowers has been promoting prayer, particularly praying a daily Rosary. The secondary story, thoug,h has also shown me what the writer of the book’s preface reminds us: the focus should be on the faith of the people involved: on Michael, his family, his friends and neighbors, and all those thousands of people, waiting there on the streets of Lansford night and day though simmering July heat and its sudden thunder storms, to see the rosaries for themselves.
For me, the exercise of writing somehow now seems bigger than the original story of the rosary. Once again, I am reminded that without faith in God — and even with faith in Him — life’s challenges can drain us to possibly become a nearly empty vessel. Having written this book and traveled this journey, I can say all of this has helped fill a void by deepening my faith and more clearly illustrating that life should be a faith journey. My wish for you is that reading my story within the story is the same!
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Copyright 2019 Jeannie Paslawsky
About the author: Jeannie Paslawsky loves to write and now her gift has taken a new light: a book. After being semi-retired, God left her “rest” doing many tasks to prepare the house where she grew up and in time also moved back to live! Content in the beautiful northeastern-Pennsylvania mountains, in a new, old, and familiar place, God has given Jeannie a new job: write a book about a local event and then, in time, introduce it to as many as she can, spreading the fact that He is still very much with us daily.