Students at St. Josaphat Catholic School in Toronto pray the rosary. Photo courtesy Sr. Marilina Cinelli

Apostolate brings rosary into classroom

By 
  • March 20, 2020

The Rosary Apostolate that shares the mysteries reflected upon in the rosary with students may be Sr. Marilina Cinelli’s baby since its origins in 1997, but she takes no credit for all the good it has done for nearly a quarter century.

“I didn’t create it, Mother Mary did. It just happened through Our Lady, I give her all the credit,” said the Toronto Passionist sister.

That said, there’s no doubt Cinelli is the driving force behind the spread of the apostolate that began in one Toronto school in 1997, expanded to five more that inaugural year and is now in almost 100 Toronto schools and 300 schools across the land, including one in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

The program has very humble beginnings, dating back to Cinelli’s return to Toronto for further theological studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary after several years in St. Catharines. She received a request to pray the rosary with children in Catholic schools, which she hesitantly agreed to fit in to her busy schedule with school and commitments to her order. But the response was overwhelming and soon came the demand to expand the program.

“The response from the teachers and students was far beyond my imagining,” said Cinelli.

The apostolate began as a “jubilee project” in 1997, when Pope John Paul II launched a three-year preparatory program for the Jubilee Year 2000. Cinelli would make a five-minute presentation on one of the themes proposed by the future St. John Paul II followed by praying the rosary with meditations connected to the theme of the day. Since then, it has remained true to its original mission: transmitting to students the great love the Blessed Virgin had for her son, Jesus.

“I like to call the rosary the school of Mary and she teaches us about her son,” said Cinelli.

It’s something many felt students were not being exposed to in schools. Sure, there is religion class, but there was a call to bring more prayer into the schools. The Rosary Apostolate has turned into that something for many, with Cinelli and her group of volunteers making monthly visits to schools.

Being regular visitors to the classroom has been the key, said Cinelli. It’s built a momentum among students that’s helped them grow.

“There was a consistent re-awakening of the soul.”

It has turned in to a full-time ministry for Cinelli and spawned new ministries — a family ministry to encourage families to pray the rosary together, a parish ministry to form prayer groups for children and youth and a high school program where students lead the apostolate in elementary schools.

“It’s really beautiful,” Cinelli said of the high school program, which in Toronto enlists students from Loretto Abbey. “It’s giving high school students the opportunity to feel like a missionary of Jesus and Mary, to be the presence of Mary for these children.”

The program also relies heavily on volunteers. At first it was retired teachers that made up the bulk of these, but it’s gone beyond that now. It’s a very dedicated group, she said, one that sees the benefits of spreading the rosary to younger generations.

“They really believe in this. They see the fruits.”

The teachers have seen the fruits as well. Right from day one, Cinelli would hear how teachers had seen a change in their students: they were better behaved on the playground, kinder to each other in class and quick to lend a hand.

“I literally could see the graces pour down on the children,” she said. Cinelli has seen the graces in teachers as well. She recalls one who resisted taking part and was constantly coming up with reasons why his students couldn’t participate. And once they took part, the teacher was barely engaged. But the next year when she returned, Cinelli found a “radical conversion” in this teacher. He welcomed her warmly and was soon at the front of the class totally engaged in the process.

As the program grows, Cinelli said there is a need for more volunteers. Those wishing to participate can find information at rosaryapostolate.com.

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