ESCONDIDO — Despite being 96 years old, Inocencia Gamboa accomplishes decades of work every single day.
That is to say, she strings together rosaries — each consisting of five decades of 10 beads each — that ultimately find their way to Catholic missions around the world and to prisons in North America.
One of her nine children, Dr. Edgar Gamboa, expressed wonder at what she has accomplished.
“I knew she made rosaries, and I thought that was a meaningful way to spend her time. It’s a hands-on, practical way to help the missions,” said Dr. Gamboa, a surgeon who lives and works in Monterey, California. “But I was astounded when, on her 94th birthday, I learned that she had made over 25,000.”
His mother has been making rosaries since 1993, taking up this ministry in the wake of her husband’s death. It’s a skill she learned from her late sister, a Third Order Carmelite, who made rosaries even as she was dying of terminal breast cancer.
Gamboa, who marked her 96th birthday on July 28, used to consistently make 10 rosaries a day. But because of the arthritis in her hands, there are days when she is only able to make three or perhaps just one.
Even after almost three decades, she has continued making them because the need is still there.
“The more you are giving, the more they (are) asking,” she told The Southern Cross around noon on June 16, a day when she had already met her goal of 10 rosaries.
“The demand is very great,” added Gamboa, who has 27 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
She purchases her rosary-making supplies from Our Lady’s Rosary Makers, an apostolate based in Louisville, Kentucky. The completed rosaries are packed in batches of 200 and shipped to those who oversee their distribution.
Gamboa used to send rosaries to San Giovanni Rotondo, the southern Italian town that was home to St. Pio of Pietrelcina. A Capuchin priest there dutifully handed them out to pilgrims or left them on Padre Pio’s crypt as keepsakes for visitors.
The “Requests for Rosaries” section of Our Lady’s Rosary Makers’ newsletter later connected her with an international flight attendant, who lives in southeastern Florida and distributes rosaries to various missions around the world, and a Pennsylvania man who sends rosaries to Mexico, Canada and prisons in the United States. She began sending packages of rosaries to these two individuals; nowadays, she mails them primarily to the latter.
Raised in a Catholic family in the Philippines, Gamboa immigrated to North America in 1979, ultimately settling in the San Diego area in 1985. She lives in the Escondido home of her daughter, Daisy Gonzalez, and son-in-law, Virgilio.
A member of St. Mark Parish in San Marcos for the past 12 years, she has been unable to attend Mass in person amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But she has stayed connected with the Church by watching live-streamed Masses on St. Mark’s YouTube channel or televised Masses on EWTN, and, of course, by making rosaries.
“I don’t want to stop,” she said of her work.
Gonzalez said rosary-making means a lot to her mother.
“I think it’s her way of helping other people,” said Gonzalez, whose childhood memories include praying a family rosary every night with her parents and siblings.
Dr. Gamboa, who also remembers those family rosaries, said his mother’s rosary-making is “a natural extension of her daily prayers.”
He shared that she has prayer books filled with prayer cards and various novenas, and she prays every day for the souls of the faithful departed — including a list of 500-plus family members and friends whose names she keeps in her notebook.
For Dr. Gamboa, his mother continues to be a source of inspiration.
“Our parents taught us, by word and example, to always trust in Divine Providence,” he said. “They instilled in us the confidence that God will always take care of things, no matter how bleak things might be, no matter what happens. They taught us to think of the welfare of others. To always forge ahead. To always stand up when we fall.”
Gonzalez said that her mother has taught her brother, Edgar, how to make rosaries, and she has thought about asking her mother to teach her, too.
“I think it would be a very good thing to continue her legacy.”
Denis Grasska contributed to this story.