Catholic Herald staff
Shoppers seeking creative Catholic gifts will appreciate Christine O’Toole’s talents.
The Stetsonville bead and fiber artist creates multi-generational family rosaries, baptism outfits, memorial rosaries, chaplets and more.
A parishioner at Holy Rosary, Medford, O’Toole also repairs and refashions jewelry and makes memory wire rosary bracelets, jewelry and crocheted scarves, afghans and clothing. A cradle Catholic who grew up in Milwaukee, she’s lived in Northern Wisconsin for more than a decade.
O’Toole’s adult life has not been easy. There have been blessings, but also sorrow, tragedy and death. Through all the trials in her life, “We had God,” she said.
Wife and mother
When O’Toole was a child, all she wanted to be was a wife and mother. She married Charles O’Toole when she was 22, and the couple decided to wait a bit before starting their family.
The first blow came when they realized they could not have biological children. The second was when, eight years into their marriage, Charles was in a major car crash. They didn’t realize until two weeks later that he’d suffered a traumatic brain injury, resulting in six months’ hospitalization.
Charles had just completed his church’s RCIA program, but instead of being confirmed Catholic that Easter Vigil, he was in the intensive care unit.
“My husband eventually came home with me, much like a 3-year-old in a man’s body,” she said.
O’Toole finally understood why they hadn’t been blessed with children – she first needed to learn how to take care of her husband.
She would spend the next 10 years being a breadwinner and caregiver.
Despite the couple’s difficulties, they felt profound joy when, out of nowhere, a pregnant teenager chose them to be her baby’s adoptive parents. O’Toole met the girl in church in October, and on Christmas Eve 1999, Amanda – the name means “gift from God” – was born.
Charles had recovered to the point where he could care for the baby in her first year; the family decided to move from New Berlin to Stetsonville, where O’Toole’s parents had grown up, in 2001.
“We were seeking a quieter lifestyle for Charlie and for raising our daughter,” she explained.
By then, Charles’ health was again in decline. He died in July 2006, leaving behind a 40-year-old widow and a 6-year-old daughter.
As she mourned that summer, O’Toole made her first rosary. She found the process “very therapeutic” and well suited to her detail-loving nature.
“Many people think I’m crazy,” she added. “There’s so many details. You have to like putting lights on the Christmas tree.”
‘Follow your art’
O’Toole has been crocheting since childhood, and she also loves making jewelry. On his deathbed, her husband encouraged her to follow her art rather than returning to a job in the city, so she did. O’Toole’s in-home studio was built in 2008; at the time, she was teaching jewelry-making and selling beads for a company that would not survive the recession. She’d also launched her own business, Studio O, in 2006.
The dogwood cross, a crucifix with dogwood blossoms and expansive branches reminiscent of a family tree, was the inspiration for O’Toole’s family rosaries. The keepsakes feature birthstones for each family member of a single generation or multiple generations; she also makes newlywed rosaries with clear beads that can be exchanged for birthstone colors as children are born.
Rosaries are fully customizable. Customers can opt for glass or Swarovski crystal beads and choose their metal, crucifix and center piece. Prices vary based on the bead size and type; family rosaries start at $86 for small glass beads and range up to $148 for Swarovski crystal beads, which have more facets and cost nearly $1 per bead.
“That’s the concept of the family rosary,” she said.
O’Toole also offers rosaries constructed with pearls or polished stones – tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, marble, malachite, Dalmatian jasper and agate, to name a few – as well as team rosaries for sports fans and car rosaries with magnets.
“I’m always looking for unique pattern beads,” she added.
Memorial rosaries are more labor intensive. O’Toole makes clay beads from dried funerary flowers and fashions them into rosaries or chaplets, which are single-decade rosaries. Handmade beads can be white flecked with petals, mosaic style, or solid colors with a pearlescent glow. Each rosary or chaplet comes with a certificate of authenticity; each piece is priced individually.
“You can see that they have so much more value for remembrance,” she said of the handmade beads.
From brick to beads
O’Toole’s latest project is a series of chaplets celebrating Holy Rosary Catholic School’s 125th anniversary. She’s making the beads from a brick used in the construction of the original school; the brick formerly functioned as the deacon’s doorstop.
“This one brick could make a lifetime of beads in memory of 125 years,” she added.
After O’Toole recoups her costs, the proceeds of additional sales will be donated.
O’Toole is in the process of launching a Studio O website to connect with potential consumers. She also markets her products on personal and business Facebook pages and at Catholic craft shows and retreats.
She’ll be busy in her studio throughout Advent, crocheting and beading Christmas gifts for customers.
“I have a bevy of orders to get done for the holidays,” O’Toole said.
Then, on Christmas Eve, the family will celebrate Amanda’s 15th birthday, remember their loved ones and give thanks for their blessings.
“We know God is very active in our life,” she added.
Visit Studio O on Facebook or call 715-678-2247 for information. O’Toole can also be reached at email@example.com.