Retired farmer discovers a passion for making rosaries

December 16, 2021

Leon and Donna Kennebeck

Raised on a farm in Carroll County near Willey, hardly a day went by when Leon Kennebeck wasn’t involved in helping his dad with the family farming operation.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, [my dad] got sick and I stayed home from high school and helped him farm after that,” Kennebeck said on the Dec. 3 episode of Bishop William Joensen’s weekly radio show.

But at about age 60, Kennebeck’s hips began causing him problems. 

“I couldn’t get my work done,” Leon said, despite help from his sons. 

Leon and wife, Donna, shifted gears, focusing on retirement. They moved to Lake Panorama and became members of St. Cecilia Parish in Panora. They spent their days enjoying the beauty of nature. Leon also took up fishing crappies, something he couldn’t partake in before – they bite in the spring and fall when he was previously busy with planting and harvest. 

But Leon was faced with a new reality in retirement. 

“I had nothing physically to take up my time and developed anxiety,” he said. 

The doctor had given Leon pills for anxiety, but he didn’t like taking them. 

Donna suggested he start making rosaries to keep his hands and mind busy in a positive way. null
Initially, Leon dismissed the idea because he thought his hands were too big for such work. 

But Donna went ahead and ordered a rosary- making kit anyway, which included beads and pliers. 
“And once I got started, I just can’t quit,” Leon admitted. 

It wasn’t easy at first. It took him nearly six hours to complete his first rosary. But eventually, he found his groove and nailed the technique. It now takes him just one hour and 20 minutes to complete one rosary. Each rosary has a miraculous medal attached and the centers feature the Divine Mercy image. 

His rosaries have been donated to people living in Haiti, India, Ghana and the Holy Land. During his radio interview, Leon told Bishop Joensen he had made more than 7,700 rosaries to date. 

“I have a calendar right on the side of my desk,” Leon said. “When I finish, I’ll mark it down. So from 2005 to now I have all those calendars and I can go back and [see dates of completion.]” 

He donates almost all of his rosaries. He even created a special rosary – the purgatory rosary. 

“It’s made like an ordinary rosary with different colored beads,” Leon said. “Think of a loved one who has died [when praying it.] You start off with the black beads and they get lighter in color. And when you get to the fifth mystery, there are no blemishes. With each mystery, the beads get lighter in color.” 

In addition to praying the rosary for friends and loved ones who have passed, he also prays a chaplet, reciting the Prayer of St. Gertrude on each bead for the souls in purgatory.

“Jesus [told St. Gertrude] he would release 1,000 souls every time you prayed that prayer,” Leon said. “That’s very powerful.”

The purgatory rosary has gained interest. 

“I had a request from a priest from Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He wanted 1,000 purgatory rosaries,” Leon said. “I was able to get those made in 11 months. That’s the most I’ve ever made in one year.” 

Though the Kennebecks have been living in the Diocese of Des Moines for nearly 18 years, they still frequently return to Carroll County. Leon helps his sons farm, and they stop in at the Catholic retreat center, Dominus Trinitatas, located on 33 acres of land the Kennebecks donated to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Leon donates his purgatory rosaries to the Dominus Trinitatas retreat center, which they sell to raise money for the costs of expansion and upkeep. 

“I let God pay me,” Leon said. “I’ve never charged to make a single rosary. The only time I charge is if someone requests a certain kind of rosary, they pay for the parts.”