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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Miracle of the Rosary

Fr. Scott A. Haynes



Those who follow the life of the singer Elvis Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) may be surprised to know the reason of why he recorded a song about the Holy Rosary. Elvis was a Pentecostal. Indeed, he was greatly influenced by Gospel music, as well as by rhythm & blues and country music. One of Elvis’ childhood heroes, country star Red Foley (whose song “Old Shep” was young Elvis’ favourite), in 1950 recorded a song dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. This planted a seed in his mind that would grow in time.

 

Throughout his career, recorded church hymns such as “How Great Thou Art.” With one of them, “Crying In The Chapel” (previously a hit for The Orioles), he had an international bestseller. The most unusual of the lot must be “Miracle Of The Rosary”, which Elvis recorded on May 15, 1971, for release on his February 20, 1972 album Elvis Now!  That album also featured covers of hits such as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” The Rosary song is the LP’s second title, after the Kristofferson and before The Beatles songs. The lyrics couldn’t be any more devout:

 

Oh Blessed Mother we pray to Thee

Thanks for the miracle of Your Rosary

Only You can hold back

Your Holy Son’s hand

Long enough for the whole world to understand

Hail Mary full of grace

The Lord is with Thee

Blessed are thou among women

And blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus

Oh Holy Mary dear Mother of God

Please pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of our death

And give thanks once again

For the miracle of Your Rosary

 

How could the King of Rock and Roll, who knew little about Catholicism, a native of the Bible belt, record a song about the Rosary — and not on some obscure gospel LP but on a gold-selling pop album. The record label did not suggest the song. It was Presley who insisted on including it.

 

The song writer was Lee Denson, one of Elvis’ first friends after the Presley family moved from Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis in 1948, when Elvis was 13. It was Lee, two years older, who taught Elvis his first guitar chords. Denson went on to have a career as a rockabilly singer, with some success but no hits. In 1957 he and Elvis played together on stage for the first and last time, at a charity concert.

 

The kicker is: Lee was the son of Rev. James Denson, who ran the Poplar Street Mission, a Pentecostal church, which the Presley family attended after moving to Memphis in 1948. In fact, while he always remained a believer, he was not a particularly good Christian — until one day.  Denson felt what he later described as “a powerful inner force” surging through his body. Lee’s wife, Mary, was a Catholic who daily prayed her Rosary, one that had come from Fatima. Mary suggested to her husband that they pray the Rosary together that night. Lee did and the following day they both went to Mass.

 

Mary continued to pray her Rosary daily and Lee sometimes joined in. At a certain point, Mary had neglected her daily Rosary. Perhaps her schedule seemed to busy. When she decided to resume the practice of praying it daily soon thereafter, she had difficulty finding it. She had lost her precious Rosary. Then, at last, one night, on October 13, 1960, Lee found his wife’s Rosary lying on their bed. It is of particular note that it reappeared that night, for this is the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, that occurred in Our Blessed Lady’s final apparition in Fatima,Portugal, on October 13, 1917.

 

Lee and his wife Mary were surprised by the words of the Priest in his homily earlier that day when he said that sometimes Our Blessed Mother performs miracles even in our daily lives yet many forget to thank her. In response to this, Lee decied to write the song, “Miracle of the Rosary,” as a thanksgiving to Our Lady of Fatima. He recorded the song before the year’s end and released it on a new album.

 

In 1961 Denson had a rare get-together with his old friend, during which he played “Miracle Of The Rosary” for Elvis. They never met again. Yet ten years later, on May 15, 1971, Elvis associate Red West phoned Denson to announce that “Miracle Of The Rosary” would be on Presley’s LP.  

 

What prompted Elvis to record Lee’s song about the Rosary he had heard a decade before? The film star, Dolores Hart, with whom Elvis had appeared in two movies, left just Hollywood to enter the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut to become a cloistered Benedictine nun. Since 1970, Mother Dolores Hart has resided in the monastery in a life of prayer, forsaking her Warner Bros. film success with stars such as Anthony Quinn and Montgomery Clift.

 

When Dolores Hart first met Elvis on the film set, she did not know who he was.

When she was interviewed by Fox News, Sister Dolores Hart said,

“In fact, when I first met him, I asked him what he did. I remember him being very courteous. He was an absolute gentleman and would call me ‘Miss Dolores.’ And then I learned what a talented singer he was. By the time we did our second film, we couldn’t walk down the street because there were so many people waiting for him, just wanting to touch him.”

 

In the midst of making a film, Miss Dolores remarked:

“I remember one moment when we were taking a break from filming, he walked over to me, handed me a Bible, and said, ‘Miss Dolores, would you open this book? What do you see? What does it mean to you?’ And so, I offered my opinion on what I was seeing. And from there, we spent the time in between the scenes talking about the Bible. I never expected a fellow actor, in particular, to have that kind of genuine curiosity. He wasn’t trying to set up anything. There were no flashbulbs around to take pictures of us. He did it because it was in his heart.”

 

Dolores Hart’s decision to leave acting was a slow internal process of vocational discernment. To all else it seemed sudden. In 1970, Miss Dolores left the glamor of Hollywood and entered the hidden life of the cloister. One of the very few actors or musicians to say goodbye to Dolores before she left for the monastery was Elvis. He called her the night before she left to wish her well. In turn she promised to always pray for him. As Dolores entered the Monastery of Regina Laudes (Queen of Praise), Elvis gave homage to our Heavenly Queen by recording the “Miracle of the Rosary” in 1971—an act of thanksgiving.

 

Though Elvis’ life was cut short, Lee Denson lived to the age of 75, dying on November 6, 2007. His funeral Mass was celebrated in Memphis’ St. Teresa Catholic Church. His remains were interred at the city’s Calvary Cemetery — on Elvis Presley Boulevard. On his gravestone is an image on the left of the Virgin Mary with her hands clasped in prayer and on the right a photo of Elvis singing while wearing a Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. On the tombstone is also engraved a final message: “Thanks once again for the Miracle of the Rosary.”

 




 

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