One of the experiences of prayer is that it seems that nothing happens. But when you stay with it, you realize that something has happened.Henri Nouwen
Kristin Reilly and her husband were living in downtown Chicago, two toddlers in tow, when her husband unexpectedly lost his job.
It was a stressful time, to say the least — especially because Kristin was almost 8 months pregnant with baby #3.
“My mom suggested that maybe we could start praying the rosary for Lent,” Kristin said, as they tried to navigate next steps, and they decided that it couldn’t hurt to try. She was raised Catholic and she knew the words from praying on road trips as a child, though it had never been part of her daily routine.
According to Kristin in an interview with Good Things Radio, the first 3 weeks were “such a disaster.” Her husband had never prayed the rosary before, and she was rusty. And with two toddlers, of course it was hard to find quiet time, so their rosaries were often interrupted and unfocused.
But they stuck with it throughout Lent, every day, just working it in to their evenings as a family and praying right through the inevitable chaos of life with young children.
When Lent finally ended, they had planned to stop, but something crazy happened: their children begged them to continue. (Kristin says they were just trying to delay bedtime, but still!)
“We continued, despite our unwillingness,” Kristin said, “and slowly we started to recognize the impact of the daily ritual. I’m lazy, messy, and uneven-tempered, but now the only thing I try to do every day is pray the rosary. And despite my imperfection, the blessings still come.”
The rosary is a 15-minute meditative prayer generally prayed by Catholics, and as Kristin likes to describe it, it’s a way of approaching Jesus through Mary, His mother; Mary serves as “the ultimate intermediary.”
Kristin loves praying the rosary, because “you don’t have to worry, and you surrender everything to Mary. She takes it to Jesus. Then all you have to think about that day is being present in what is.”
As the next few years went by, the Reilly family went through continued challenges and transitions. Kristin left her job and started a new one, her husband founded a company, and they welcomed two more kids. But throughout these major life changes, that daily rosary was a constant.
And despite my imperfection, the blessings still come.Kristin Reilly
“The rosary made all of it possible,” Kristin says. “It kept us together. It kept us focused on what mattered. It helped us rise above the fear.”
But it their commitment to the rosary became larger than their own family; it began to help them build community.
At their children’s school, there was a group of parents who would pray the rosary after drop-off on Thursday mornings.
“I loved that, because it’s hard to be superficial in a relationship that starts out with prayer,” Kristin said. “We would all start out with our prayer intentions, so you knew what everyone was going through. And I witnessed how quickly you can connect with people when you connect over prayer.”
Eventually outgrowing their city house with 5 kids and counting, their family had to move out to the suburbs, and that rosary community was one of the biggest things that Kristin missed.
But she had an idea — what if she could build a prayer community online?
“That’s really where a lot of us spend a lot of our time today anyway,” she thought to herself, “so maybe this could work.” Her goal was to pray the rosary regularly with others and build community around that, and she started an Instagram account: @onehailmaryatatime.
“I was pretty nervous putting myself out there. I don’t think a lot of my friends knew that we prayed every day. But what’s interesting is that when you do put yourself out there, your relationships become more authentic and more real. Because people know something about you that you didn’t know before,” Kristin said.
It’s hard to be superficial in a relationship that starts out with prayer.Kristin Reilly
Today, Kristin is expecting her 7th child. In a world where social media tends to shows us perfectly curated highlights and heavily styled photos, Kristin prays the rosary, live on Instagram, with hundreds of others every single morning. Her account has over 30,000 followers.
She now uses that account to open up more about her family and her personal story—including the unique challenges of being a mom of 7 who also works full-time as a banker—and also to build awareness and understanding of Down Syndrome, which her two brothers have.
But she still prays the rosary 7 days a week at @manyhailmarysatatime, and she will frequently host “celebrity” guests, like Jeannie Gaffigan, to join her and assist with leading the rosary.
“When I’m consistent with prayer, it impacts every other aspect of my life,” Kristin said in a recent interview, adding that she feels more grounded and centered thanks to this daily habit: “family, friendships, relationships always take center stage throughout my day and prayer allows me to see them in a more loving, compassionate manner. But I think my mental health is the biggest area where I notice a change. The more I pray, the less stressed and overwhelmed I feel.”
Above all, Kristin hopes that by sharing her story, she can encourage and inspire others to pray more.
What keeps her going, she says, are other people’s stories of the power of prayer, and particularly the rosary — one woman prayed while being followed by a stranger in an unsafe part of Colombia and was unexpectedly rescued by her Dad, another felt Mary’s protection as she escaped from an abusive relationship.
And while Kristin is particularly passionate about the rosary, she believes that taking any step, even a small step, will pay off (hence the name, “One Hail Mary At a Time”). She hopes that praying publicly will encourage others to open up more about their faith, and be encouraged to build stronger community around prayer.
To the mamas reading this who are wondering how the Reilly family pulls off a rosary every day with so many kids (expecting #7!), Kristin is very open about the fact that her family rosary is far from perfect.
“The rosary, or any family prayer, takes a lot of patience with children,” she says, “but just try it. And you will start seeing the fruits of it.”
And, she adds: “if Mary can help us, she can surely help you.”