More than 114,000 Hail Marys were said for each soldier who died in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and the conflict in Afghanistan Photo by Michael Swan.

Rosary honours fallen soldiers

  • November 9, 2014

An initiative that began at a London, Ont., high school saw one Hail Mary prayed for each Canadian soldier who has died in service since the First World War. 

The goal was set by students at Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., and it was achieved with help from schools across the province. 

There were 114,457 Hail Marys prayed by students and teachers throughout October for soldiers who died in four wars. 

The Hail Marys for Peace campaign began when Mother Teresa’s student chaplaincy team was looking for a way to honour Canadian soldiers. This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. On, Grade 11 student Emily Jacobs discovered the number of soldiers who died in both the World Wars, the Korean War, the current war in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping missions. Once prayer was suggested, all other options of honouring the soldiers seemed insufficient. 

“I thought it was the right thing to do for all the soldiers to know that we are thinking about them when they pass,” said Jacobs on joining Hail Marys for peace. “It means a lot to me knowing that we are bringing families together to pray for soldiers who have passed. It also means a lot because my grandpa was in the war and so many of his friends have died.” 

Jacobs believes the campaign will educate others on the sacrifices Canadian soldiers have made and wants today’s soldiers to know that their work is valued and that they are not forgotten. 

“We chose Hail Marys for several reasons. Because we are Catholic schools, because October is the month of the rosary, because it is a prayer that many know and all should know and because we wanted our Holy Mother to bring our prayers to the Father on our behalf,” said Brad Lewis, chaplaincy leader at the school. “We felt that praying for peace, in memory of fallen soldiers, honoured them in a way that seemed fitting as so many died to bring peace to places and people around the world. The tragic deaths of two Canadian soldiers last week (the murders of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.) really brought home who it is we are honouring with our prayers and why we are praying.” 

Cpl. Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent were not included in the initial 114,457, but Lewis says they have been remembered in prayer by Ontario’s Catholic schools. 

The project began on Oct. 1 with Remembrance Day Nov. 11 as its deadline. The goal was reached by Oct. 24. 

Lewis estimates that at least 800 students and staff at his school would pray a Hail Mary each day. On game days, the football teams would meet in the chapel before school to pray Hail Marys for peace. Estimating that one person can pray five Hail Marys in a minute, Lewis realized they would need help and alerted members of the Catholic School Chaplains of Ontario; six responded immediately and joined the cause. In total, he says, 19 elementary and secondary schools from Thunder Bay to Ottawa were praying by the time the prayer goal was met. 

“Many incorporated a Hail Mary into their regular morning prayer, reminding their school community before they prayed that the Hail Mary they were about to offer as a prayer for peace was in memory of one Canadian soldier who had died in service,” said Lewis. “Some schools pray the rosary regularly during October and chose to offer them as prayers for peace. Many classroom teachers chose to begin their classes with the rosary. Many individuals prayed on their own and gave me a count when they were finished.” 

By attaching a Hail Mary to each life, the students began to connect with the lives lost in sacrifice for Canada and its people, said Lewis. 

“It was unique and meaningful. It reflected our faith and our hope,” said Lewis. “How could anyone find fault with remembering our fallen soldiers with prayers for peace?” 

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