Rosary, community help Minnesota family through grief over loss of son

ALBANY, Minn. (OSV News) -- Earlier this summer, Jeff Gerads volunteered to construct a giant rosary for the Harvest of Hope Area Catholic Community. When he invited his sons Ethan, 16, and Owen, 12, to help, he could never have known how special that rosary would become.

Ethan was killed in a car accident July 21.

Now that rosary and the community are helping the family, Jeff and his wife, Melissa, Owen and his sister, Emma, to cope with the loss.

People from across the Harvest of Hope Area Catholic Community, or ACC, which includes the parishes in Albany, Avon, St. Martin and St. Anthony, in central Minnesota, gathered Sept. 3 at Seven Dolors in Albany to pray a special living rosary to remember Ethan using the rosary he helped make.

The Catholic community also invited a grief counselor to give a brief presentation, followed by small-group conversation.

"This tragedy has brought so many people together, brought people to pray," said Melissa Gerads, Ethan's mom.

She said that the rosary was displayed outside during Ethan's wake and funeral and many people stopped to pray there.

"Nobody would just walk by, they would stop and they would start praying. It's just amazing, the community of that. It brought everybody together," she told The Central Minnesota Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Ethan was an usher and an altar server and would have been a junior this year at Albany High School. He grew up seeing his dad pray the rosary while they were hunting and had started bringing his own rosary on hunting trips, Jeff said.

"The four parishes each have an identity, but then an event like this happens and we discover something that we hold in common," said Deacon Steven Koop, one of the permanent deacons assigned to Harvest of Hope community. "And that is how much we love family, how much we respect one another, and how much we understand that when a family loses someone like Ethan, when a family loses part of their future, we can immediately identify with that. Some have already experienced that in their own way, and so the heart just reaches out to them.

He added, "Whatever the separation that might exist between four parishes, either in distance or their own little cultures, suddenly falls down and everybody just steps forward."

And they have been stepping forward. So many people came to their home on the day of the accident, that Melissa said it looked like a parish festival. Neighbors, friends and fellow parishioners brought food, water and support for the family.

And about 60 people came to pray the rosary outside in 100-degree heat.

"You never really know who's affected by something like this, and when they come to an event like this, I recognize them and see how they might have known Ethan," said Father Edward Vebelun, pastor of Harvest of Hope. "I know who Ethan's cousins, his aunts and uncles and his grandmother are. They are all from different communities, but they come together here. That's the natural part of the ACC, that we're all connected."- - - Dianne Towalski is social media manager at The Central Minnesota Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.