Maureen Pizzo of St. Justin Parish prays the Rosary on a Saturday in April with the prayer group that gathers alongside the Toms River. Jeff Bruno photos
Maureen Pizzo of St. Justin Parish prays the Rosary on a Saturday in April with the prayer group that gathers alongside the Toms River. Jeff Bruno photos
She was never there.

Only a prayer card from Aunt Jackie’s funeral was taped to the bench. The bench is in the first row facing the river in a small pavilion that rests quietly under the shadow of several oak trees.

She may never have been there, but her legacy is there to this very day.

All because of a little book.

Photo Gallery: Rosary Group prays for peace.

Her little book about the Scriptural Rosary.

It’s a book that’s lovingly laughed about because it was so tiny, the print so hard to read that you had to squint.

But her niece, Ellen Santos, fixed all that.

It began with this Facebook post in January 2021. (See photo above) 

It was during a time of rising unrest in the nation, a time when the most powerful weapon a person could wield were Rosary beads.

“We need to do more than just talk about it or watch the TV; we need to get down on our knees…” explained Ellen.

And so, 30 or so people froze together that January day on an uninhabited beach, uniting their prayers for peace and healing.

Undaunted by the cold and inspired by the experience, they decided to return the following week.

And the rest is history.

Photo Gallery: Rosary Group courtesy photos

As they approach May 2022, they’ve gathered over 60 times with well over 500+ collective Rosaries under their belt.

They’ve relocated to the small, covered pavilion with easier access and parking to allow those that might struggle walking on the beach an easier time.

The members come from near and far, mainly through word of mouth. Many hail from St. Joseph and St. Justin Parishes in Toms River, but others come from other parishes, other dioceses, even other states. They are all drawn together by their faith.

There are prayer guides for those who aren’t familiar with the Rosary. The prayers from the tiny Scriptural Rosary book have been reprinted in a larger format.

And for those who skipped breakfast to be there, Anna, a long-time member, brings baked goods to share.

What began as a response to the fearful conditions in the world has grown into a joyful family of faith; each praying for the other, the country and the world.

They’ve endured the brutal months of winter and the sweltering days of summer. They’ve persevered in prayer, hope and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

And now they form a family of faith, Mary’s family.

It began with a simple Facebook post.

A post that revealed much more than the printed words on a screen.

It revealed a trusting soul.

Trusting that Christ can unite, restore hope and bring healing.

And a soul that places its trust in Christ becomes a beacon.

A beacon of hope. (See photo of Facebook post above.)

While Aunt Jackie may not have lived to join them on the beach or pavilion, perhaps she stands beside the Blessed Mother now, gazing down with loving eyes upon those who gather to pray.

Whether it’s Ellen’s post, Jackie’s prayer book, or Anna’s bread, it’s heartening to see what God can accomplish in those who cooperate with his Grace.

You can join them each Saturday at noon at the pavilion on West Camp Walk, in Island Heights, NJ.

Jeffrey Bruno is a long-time freelance partner of The Monitor, and photojournalist with Aleteia, the international Catholic news digital platform.