Catholic Herald Staff
For 92-year-old Dolly Kimmes Cosgrove, what started as the movement of a grandmother’s heart has multiplied into an initiative that has reached thousands and touched countless lives.
In 2007, when granddaughter Megan Roby was making her confirmation, Cosgrove wanted to share the gift of prayer. After not finding what she had in mind, the lifelong Catholic decided to put her own favorite prayers on paper – typing, printing, cutting and arranging an assortment compiled from books and practices of her own upbringing.
The first “My Favorite Prayers” was assembled in a photo brag book, and her granddaughter still treasures it.
Roby says she was “pretty excited” to receive the prayer book, and the time and effort put into it made her feel very special.
“Growing up, she’s just always had such a faith in action – in mentality and example,” she said. Roby remembers many, many occasions she and her brother visited their grandparents – going to daily Mass, visiting the nursing home or the sisters up at St. Scholastica’s.
“Among a lot of great people in my life, she’s the greatest example of faith,” the young woman, now herself a mother, concluded.
Megan was the first in a long line of recipients of her grandmother’s prayer book. Cosgrove handmade 35 copies to give to family and friends.
This wasn’t the mother of nine’s first attempt at writing a book. Two of her children remember the big cookbook she tried getting published. Son Jim shared that she worked at it for years, but it never went anywhere.
The time and effort Cosgrove put into “My Favorite Prayers” has been a different story entirely.
“Driven by the Holy Spirit,” as both Jim and daughter Bridget McGill described their mother, the prayer book has been printed eight times. The eighth revised edition was published in October, and as of the time of the November interview with Cosgrove at her home in Gordon, more than 10,000 books had been distributed.
They have reached as far as Mexico, Romania and the Vatican, and as near as all the Catholic schools in the diocese. Most have been personally gifted by Cosgrove herself, often with a request to sign it.
Smaller than a 4-by 6-inch photo, the 36 pages of “My Favorite Prayers” is almost a mini-review of the Catholic faith and familiar devotions. The Lord’s Prayer comes first, followed by the Hail Mary and Apostle’s Creed but also includes a Spiritual Communion. There are some prayers of saints and a prayer to St. Joseph with a commentary on St. Teresa of Avila’s stout devotion to his patronage. There are the Acts of Faith, Hope, Love and Contrition, the Angelus and Aspirations with another comment, “little prayers … good to memorize, and say them often.”
An image of Jesus accompanies the Divine Mercy Chaplet, after which comes the outline of the rosary and Stations of the Cross. There is a listing of the seven sacraments and the Ten Commandments, the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, with the last pages including some of Cosgrove’s favorite hymns.
McGill shared that once the initial publications were in hand, her mother “always carried them with her.” She says that giving out these prayer books is a “ministry that the Holy Spirit just gave her.”
The daughter, who is the first-edition recipient Megan’s mother, said her mom hasn’t set out specifically to evangelize, but that that is exactly what she is doing.
“She might be buying a dishwasher,” McGill recounts, “and she asks the salesperson, ‘Do you think you’d like one of my prayer books?’”
Cosgrove has done the same with almost every person she comes in contact with – an electric company employee, restaurant servers and gas station attendants. All share their gratitude, but many come back and share how much the books mean to them. Even non-Catholic friends, Cosgrove shared, have told her the book is always on their bedside table.
Always with prayer books at-the-ready, the author is not afraid to go up and offer it to a stranger or make a stop to leave a handful at a church along the way.
The author even distributed about 50 books to nurses, doctors and other visitors while deathly ill in the hospital a couple of years ago. In fact, recovering from that illness Cosgrove and her children see as confirmation that her work is not yet finished.
Son Jim, who calls his mother “fun and a joy,” also said, “All these things of her life – she’s kind of all business,” adding that responding to someone’s need was “just the way it was” with his mother, even at 92.
“She loves you deeply, she just has the capacity for a lot of action,” Jim stated.
Cosgrove herself admitted the German in her German and Irish heritage is her prominent side.
Publishing the books has always been Cosgrove’s personal financial commitment, although she also credits the discounts provided by the printing company (where one of her sons is employed) and their management’s candid support.
Her children tell of how, for a time, they placed the books in a few shops but not one sold.
“We realized the Holy Spirit doesn’t want these books to be sold,” McGill affirmed. “He wants these books to be given person to person.”
And that person-to-person contact with Cosgrove is a gift in and of itself. She is energized and spunky. Sitting upright in her chair, tapping her fingers on the table to make a point and with colorful humor, made even more apparent by her fuchsia sweater and dark pink glasses.
What stands out most about Cosgrove is her no-nonsense and unassuming approach. She doesn’t think the books are much of a to-do. She sees herself just following what she has felt called to do and while expressing appreciation for her two children’s compliments, she shrugs off their praise.
To ask Cosgrove about where the seeds of her faith come from, there was a cordial scoff in her reaction. The family was raised in Superior, where her father William Kimmes was a successful contractor.
She said faith has always been a “big, big part” of her life. Of her parents’ faith, Cosgrove very definitely said, “Oh heavens! (My father) wouldn’t miss Mass – my parents were very, very strong.”
The family attended the Cathedral of Christ the King where Cosgrove believes she might have been one of the first baptized, in October 1927, just weeks before the church was dedicated. One of seven siblings, she was confirmed at the cathedral and also married there.
Daughter Bridget reminded her mother of the stories she’d been told about her grandfather’s generosity with the orphans at the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Superior. The orphans’ one big outing for the year was to the fair – of which Mr. Kimmes was the president – and then for a picnic at his family’s home.
Cosgrove attended Catholic schools – Claude Allouez Academy in Superior and then boarding high school with the sisters at St. Scholastica in Duluth.
“I loved being there,” she said of her time at St. Scholastica. “I loved being with the sisters.”
Thoughts of a vocation were present as a young woman, but when something like a voice came over her while waiting for confession one afternoon, she heard, “You want to love and be loved.”
“I thought – huh, there goes the convent,” the woman said, smiling.
In 1946, after one year of college, Cosgrove met her husband-to-be after he had returned from the war. It was “love at first sight,” and the couple had been married for 53 years when Jack died.
He also came from a devout Catholic family, and Cosgrove told of Jack’s “tremendous love of the Blessed Virgin.” She recalled that they would regularly pray the rosary while they were dating, a devotion that continued as they raised their own family and still today.
“We say the rosary every night here at 6 p.m.,” Cosgrove said, “No matter who’s here,” noting that only once did a non-Catholic couple excuse themselves from the room during the devotion.
Whether anyone is joining her or not, Cosgrove is committed to praying it daily. She sits down to pray with a vodka and water in one hand, the rosary in the other – a detail she didn’t want published but her children agreed wasn’t scandalous. They recalled Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine.
It is this integration of faith into everyday life that returns like a chorus after each verse of this woman’s life story.
Describing “the essence of Mom,” the youngest son said that both parents had “always given their time, their money, their life to caring for other people.” Their own children came first, but Jack was described as a very courageous and ethical business man who adored his wife and backed everything she did.
Cosgrove volunteered at soup kitchens and hospitals near the family’s home in Minneapolis and always kept a connection with the sisters at St. Scholastica. She knew almost all of the homeless and street people in the area by name.
“Their faith permeated and was involved in all parts of their life – all their decisions,” Jim said. “It wasn’t preachy, but it was in all parts of their life.”
He added, “The prayer book is just one chapter in her life’s book of selfless care of other people. Her story is so beautiful because she has great faith but she puts her faith into the care of other people … and she is so blessed and rewarded by it. It’s given her so much fulfillment.”
Cosgrove acknowledged that fulfillment and has continued volunteering since her permanent move to the couple’s vacation home, “Maryglade,” in Gordon. While she has enjoyed decades of fishing and hunting in the area, she also continues to serve as a lay leader of prayer and Eucharistic minister at St. Anthony of Padua parish.
The family isn’t worrying about what will happen with the books when Cosgrove is gone.
“The Lord will take care of it,” McGill said, maintaining that as long as the books are needed, they will figure out how to print and provide them free of charge.
Cosgrove’s children see their mother’s ministry as not just giving away prayer books. She cares about the people she encounters and is giving them a way to connect with God.
On the title page inside the cover, under the author’s name it reads: Prayer is talking to God.
Iterating that she’s never thought of her mother as an overt evangelist, her daughter affirmed, “She is one. She brings people to God all the time. This is the gift, the word He has given to her.”
Cosgrove has responded – 10,000 fold.
Cosgrove can be reached at P.O. Box 238, Gordon, WI 54838 or at .