A quiet highway, Rosary beads and a tragic accident

First things first: The Indianapolis Star team deserves quite a bit of credit for the quick news feature it produced the other day about the death of Andrew Moore, a Thomas Aquinas College student who was killed while walking from coast to coast during a prayer marathon in opposition to abortion.

Most of the questions I have, truth be told, are about the nature of the accident itself. Moore was wearing a reflecting vest and was walking in the grassy median of the highway — details that the story notes quite clearly. Still, police are saying that this was nothing more than a simple accident.

So I liked the article, in particular the biographic materials, which I will share in a minute.

The opening, however, will be rather jarring to traditional Catholics. Why’s that? It’s all about that first verb.

Clutching their holy beads as they walked down the dark highway, Andrew Moore and his fellow “pro-life walker” were praying the Rosary early Friday morning.

Their group had walked about 2,200 miles from San Francisco and had about 600 miles to go before reaching Washington, D.C. There aren’t many cars at 5 a.m. on U.S. 40 near Stilesville, in Hendricks County, so it wouldn’t be difficult to hear the prayers they voiced.

“They had figured that if they kept praying the Rosary, they could kind of pace themselves … they could get through one in exactly one mile,” said Rev. John Hollowell, a priest in Terre Haute, who interviewed the group on a small Catholic radio station on Wednesday.

What they apparently did not hear was the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind as they walked in the grassy median of the four-lane divided highway.

Moore, a 20-year-old college student from Concord, Calif., was struck from behind and died quickly on the highway. The unidentified woman with him was not injured, but was reportedly in shock. And others in the group, the “day-shift” walkers, were up ahead a few miles in a mini-van and RV. Police say it was an accident. There was no sign of alcohol and no sign of the vehicle swerving out of control.

Here’s the question raised by some readers: Why is this young man “clutching” his “holy beads”? So Moore was gripping it tightly, as if in a fist or even a claw (check out some of the basic definitions)? Yes, I have read references to the devout “holding” their rosaries or even “fingering” them — since the motions that accompany the prayers are light and quick, as the person praying slips the beads through their fingertips one at a time, saying repetition after repetition of these prayers.

It would, of course, have only taken one or two clicks of a mouse to find the basic Rosary prayers and mysteries. Did this devout — the story backs up that label, by the way — die while saying these familiar, and in this context certainly poignant, words?

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The story includes no details from the prayers themselves, but simply moves on. Here is my journalistic question for Catholics who read this blog: What is the customary verb used to describe the use of a Rosary? If “clutching” is awkward, to say the least, what is a more accurate and descriptive word?

One thing is for sure, the young man described in this story would have felt totally comfortable saying these oh-so-familiar prayers. The story’s biographical details make that clear:

Andrew Moore, who was known by friends and family as “Kent” (a shortened form of his middle name, Kentigern), was the oldest of five kids. He was described as a straight-A student who helped the homeless and went on a mission trip to Mexico to build homes for the poor. But his life’s passion, according to his father, was the anti-abortion movement, where he worked for a local Birthright organization and often prayed before a local Planned Parenthood office.

“He was not ‘in your face’ or mean, but he would simply pray and use kind words,” said Joseph Moore.

Andrew Moore, who wore a bushy black goatee that earned him the nickname “Pharoah,” would have been a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., where among other things, he was discerning a call to the priesthood.

Yes, some readers will want to argue about the Associated Press style issue that looms over that reference to a grieving father being quoted — note, in a paraphrased quote — as saying that his son was passionate about the “anti-abortion movement,” when you just know that what the father actually said was “pro-life movement.”

Please, let’s not re-hash that debate at this time. All in all, this was an effective and at times touching hard-news report about a tragic event. The “clutching” thing is a bit strange (one wonders where that word choice came from), but it will not spoil the whole stories for most readers.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brandon

    I thought this was a well-done story when I read it, too. It gave a respectful, calm look into a young man’s life — a life that was cut short in an accident. No blame, no loaded phrases, no obvious bias. Just a good, honest story.

    Kudos, IndyStar!

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Are you Catholic? Do you have a comment on my Rosary question — the matter of the strange verb?

  • Erin

    Normally Catholics say that we “pray” the Rosary. There’s no standard term to describe the way in which one holds it (and different people hold the beads differently, anyway). I would have phrased the first sentence as “Praying the Rosary as they walked down the dark highway.”

  • Martha

    I think, in this context, the journalist was guilty of foreshadowing – trying to let us know what was going to happen next by using a verb that you would only expect to see used in stressful or dangerous or upsetting situations (one might clutch on to a lifeline, or the phrase I would most associate with it: clutching your pearls).

    Common or not so common expressions: praying the rosary, holding the beads, telling your beads (yes, that’s bordering on the archaic), fingering the beads (though that’s more a literary/description by non-Catholic usage), counting the beads, passing the beads through your hands or just plain ‘saying the rosary’ (people who use prayer beads will automatically know what actions go along).

    The “holy beads” phrase also strikes me as awkward; rosary beads in themselves are not holy as such, though you can have your beads blessed (and then they become a sacramental). It’s forgiveable, though, as a means of differentiating between rosary beads and ordinary beads as in a necklace (which is what a non-Catholic would probably think of if the word “beads” was used on its own).

  • Barbara

    The choice of words is indeed strange- a rather cliched formulation, really, that doesn’t convey the action, but does convey fear and superstition rather nicely. Were I writing this for a predominantly non-Catholic audience, I would describe the action as “fingering.”

    In addition to the paraphrase of the father’s quote, Catholic priest’s titles are well known, so I was surprised to see a priest referred to as “Reverend.”

    The situation, apart from the reporting, raises any number of questions.

  • Dill

    When I see the verb “clutch” in association with Rosaries, it usually has political rather than simply prayerful implications. If people are meditating on the mysteries, “clutch” is an odd choice. If they are reacting to fearfully or are prayerfully protesting something, then “clutch” seems more fitting (Tim Keown uses the phrase in the 6th paragraph of this ESPN blog post).

    As TMatt points out, “holding” and “fingering” seem more natural, as does “grasping”. However, I am not unfamiliar with “clutching” being the verb of choice either. It does seem to happen a lot, sometimes in a derogatory way, which is clearly not the case here.

    Perhaps the writer was trying to add more tension to the lede? Or maybe the word illustrates how fiercely this young man held onto his faith, even as he was dying? It is possibly worth noting that in times of grave illness or imminent death, simply holding onto a Rosary is thought to bestow comfort and grace, and very often the verb “clutch” is used in that circumstance.

    Truthfully, the phrase “holy beads” throws me for more of a loop than “clutching” does, but I guess that’s just a Catholic being picky.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Picky is fine. Accuracy is a good thing and journalists should care about what stakeholders (to use a Poynter.org term) think….

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Yep, the “holy beads” is a bigger bad than “clutching”. Not really “bad”, but weird. As to using them, I’ll go with “praying the Rosary”, but in times of stress or grief, I’ll admit I have “clutched” them.

    And quotation mark above was just a quotation mark; no scares, smears, or horrors. :-)

  • WhollyRoamin

    I’m a self-described traditionalist Catholic, and while I wouldn’t use the verb “clutching” myself, I do not think it is an inappropriate verb from a secular source. It may not pass by an astute editor, but I think GetReligion has made the case for years that there are not many astute editors left.

    It is not a perfect word, but I do not find it jarring.

  • http://facebook.com elaine o’brien

    All my life we refer to our activity as we “Pray the Rosary”

  • MaryAnn

    I’m what I think would be labeled a conservative Catholic, assuming that is synonymous with active, orthodox, and having my faith inform my world view. My overall opinion is that I’m glad a mainstream paper wrote about, and that it did so in a dignified way. I respect that.

    Clutching is an eye-roller for me, but it isn’t offensive. It seems like reaching for tension in an artificial way instead of allowing the story’s tension to speak for itself. Holy beads makes me wonder if the journalist has any basic knowledge on religion or if he thinks his readers are so stupid that he needs to use an inaccurate and dumbed down term to communicate with them.

    I understand your plea to not re-hash the argument on the choice of anti-abortion or pro-life, but a slightly separate angle of the consequences of the choice really defines the article for me. What does his family take away from the article? If I were that dad, it would be that quoted line. They could have re-worded, used an actual quote, or any other number of things to not be in-you-face with a grieving dad. Even if the word were elsewhere in the article (I support using terms people self-identify as, but will refrain from that discussion at your request), it wouldn’t be as offensive as putting it in the dad’s mouth. If I were that dad, that would sting something fierce to know that attitude is precisely why my son died and now I’m being quoted as saying it. Ouch.

  • http://cowboypapist.com Cowboy Papist

    Terry; love your site!

    “Clutching their holy beads . . . ” is pretty derogatory; in fact, I might venture to think the ‘journalist’ was anti-Catholic, or at the least an ignoramus. Yes, we’re pretty orthodox around our homestead, and I doubt we would take any time to read any article that started with “Clutching their holy beads.” But we generally find this to be the case for most major media ‘journalists.’

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Actually the whole phrase, “Clutching their holy beads…” made me clutch my chair thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” I was expecting the worst cliched piece ever written; exhibit A in “the press…just doesn’t get religion.” So it was rather surprising as I read through the rest of it that it was, as tmatt observed, a decent piece. Yes, the “anti-abortion” rankled me, but what do you expect from the MSM?

    Yes, rosaries are considered holy objects by Catholics, but not so holy that that’s what we call them, like the Holy Eucharist. Most of the time, they’re stuck in our pockets or on our rear-view mirrors or in piles at home, so it’s not we treat them with great reverence.

    Clutching — I’m reminded of what Hillaire Belloc told the crowd when he ran for Parliament: “As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day.” Or the British nursery rhyme: “Robin Hood, Robin Hood telling his beads.” Obviously that’s obsolete (though it sounds nice). “Holding” and “fingering” would be far better choices. One clutches when one is frightened, not when one is wearily walking down a road at 5:00 in the morning.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Oops — meant to say “…so it’s not like we treat them with great reverence.”

  • Julia

    What is the customary verb used to describe the use of a Rosary?

    My age group – 60s – would use “saying the rosary” or “doing a rosary”; we wouldn’t describe the physical fingering of the beads. My sons – 40s – didn’t learn anything about rosaries in their Catholic school; so I have no idea what verb they would use.

    Clutching their holy beads

    is really bizarre-sounding to this Catholic’s ears.

  • Amy

    “Clutching” is odd. It’s usually used in a derogatory sense of to portray the person as clinging to religious superstition in the face of reason/science. It’s possible, given the rest of the article, that the writer wasn’t trying to give that connotation, but hadn’t really heard any other phrasing.

  • Laura

    As others above have stated, “Clutching their holy beads” sounds snarky. I would’ve used either carrying or holding myself. And regarding younger Catholics phraises on the Rosary itself, I guess it depends on who taught it to you. I’m 30 and my mother said the rosary with my sister and me each night before bed. I’d use either Praying/saying a rosary. Also, “Holy beads” throws me more than clutching does as well. Lots of people know what a rosary is, even if they don’t know how to say it. Why not stick to the description of what they were actually doing, walking along the rode and praying a rosary.

  • kyle

    “Clutching” is odd. It’s usually used in a derogatory sense of to portray the person as clinging to religious superstition in the face of reason/science.

    (Orthodox Catholic here.) That was my initial thought, too. It feels like I’ve heard this phrase before, but I can’t even remember in what context. Possibly directed at pro-lifers? But anyway, googling it doesn’t seem to bear it out. It does seem to be used, perhaps more so in the UK, but in a variety of contexts with at least no obvious slur attached to them. For instance LifeSiteNews uses it here in a way I’m sure is not intended to be derogatory. So I guess the best thing to do would be not to read too much into it.

  • CarlH

    I think Dill has the context pegged. The use of the word “clutching” has a political edge to it — perhaps by association with a rather infamous quote about people “clinging to their guns and bibles,” which (if you do a Google search) seems to have transmogrified to “clutching,” particularly when used when one wishes to be be particularly denigrating–whether to those who supposedly cling, or to the person who first uttered the phrase (depending on which side of the “culture war” may be using the phrase). Sadly, the fact that this usage shows up in a story with little real political content no longer surprises given the extent to which so many journalists seem to believe that everything is political.

    Given the rather stark disconnect between that lede and the mostly respectful tone of the rest of the article, I had to wonder whether an editor decided that the opening needed to be spiced up a bit to catch people’s attention–and sadly failed to anticipate that such a phrase might actually turn some readers away.

  • Romulus

    “Clutching” has more than a whiff of condescension on the reporter’s part. Not necessarily intentional, but an unthinking cliche probably absorbed from the larger culture that views Catholics as exotic throwbacks given to peasant superstition. A better editor would have ditched the word in favor of something more neutral.

    One wonders how a vehicle that runs down a pedestrian in a grassy median can be said to be not out of control.

  • Frank Lockwood

    This was a beautiful story and the criticism is, I think, somewhat misplaced.

    I spent some time in the Google News archives to see how “clutching” is typically used in news stories. Clutching means holding something tightly — especially something highly valued or loved.

    There are several stories about Olympic champions “clutching their medals.” And several more stories about mothers clutching their babies as war and other disasters unfolded around them.

    There are also numerous stories about family members clutching each other’s hands.

    These young people were holding their rosaries tightly because they saw eternal value in the prayers they prayed.

    While most “native speakers” of Catholicism would not refer to the rosary as “holy beads”, I saw nothing in the article to suggest condescension or a lack of respect.

    The holy beads, like the Holy Bible, aren’t holy in and of themselves. In one sense, the beads are just beads and the Book is just paper and ink. But they are both, I think, a means of grace and an avenue for drawing closer to God.

  • CT

    Former Insurance Rep here and “conservative” Catholic. If a vehicle goes onto a grassy median and was not out of control, then it was deliberate.

  • Matt

    This article does not say that Moore and his partner were in the median, but rather than they had “decided to cross the highway to walk on the other side so they could see oncoming traffic,” and that the car hit him “near the edge of the grassy median”.

    So that sounds much more consistent with the claim that it was an accident. The article also notes that the walkers were asking prayer for the driver, who was on his way to work.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Andrew Moore was a classmate of my daughter. When I googled it the other day, the Indianapolis Star story did not appear, or at least I did not see it. And I’m sorry I didn’t tune into GR before now. Thanks for covering it, tmatt.

    “Clutching” would be either A) something a somewhat anti-Catholic might say to describe a Catholic he felt was behaving in an extreme way; such as, “The pro-life Catholics were clutching their rosaries and exhorting women to turn away from the abortion clinic.”

    Or, B) something a devout Catholic might do in an extreme moment when the mind is too troubled to form the prayers and all one can do is, well, clutch.

    Either way, it is a bit more literary than literal, and not the way to describe the normal use of a rosary, as others have noted. Considering the drama the writer was trying to achieve, though, I would think B) was intended. In fact, given that Andrew was killed with rosary in hand, it would be in extreme bad taste for the article to be snarky about it.

    “Holy beads” is also odd, as people have mentioned. At least “holy” wasn’t in scare quotes! Several churches I know are named Holy Rosary, and one of the prayers commonly said at the end of a rosary calls it the Most Holy Rosary. But “holy” in this case is really more about the prayers and not the beads. Although… a blessed rosary (meaning the beads), like blessed water and oil, is legitimately called “holy.”

  • Teomatteo

    Clutching sounds like “clinging”…..kinda like “clinging to their guns and bibles”

  • http://www.biblebeltblogger.com Frank Lockwood

    And Terry, thanks for spotting this story and sharing it with us. GetReligion.org is a forum I really enjoy.

  • Fr. Andrew Kolitsos

    Dear Mr. Mattingly,

    I have admired your writing for many years. May God continue to bless you, your family, and the talent He has graced you with.

    As for this tragedy something doesn’t compute. I was a major city police officer for over five years and worked the midnight shift 95% of my carrer. This doesn’t sound kosher to me. Could we at least report on the official fatality accident report. It should be public record. (It doesn’t mean that the official report will contain the “gospel” truth.)

    In Christ,

    Fr. Andrew K.

  • Slats

    Hope this isn’t too off-topic, but the photo attached to this story was the first thing that caught my eye. That is one big rosary – way bigger than any rosary I’ve ever owned. It looks like one that you could not carry in your pocket very easily and therefore not likely the kind of thing the young people were carrying as they walked down the road late at night. It’s more like the kind you see tucked into the belt of a nun or brother.

    A picture like that might convey a bit more an “in-your-face” or intimidating image of what it means to pray the rosary. I think a lot of people pray the rosary in public in a way that others wouldn’t even notice. They use little rings with bumps on them to keep track of the prayers, or they hold the rosary in their hands in a way that people wouldn’t notice them or in their pocket. I’ve even seen a little plastic card the size of a business card that you can use to keep track of the prayers. You just move your finger around the edges of the card. All of these means would be the exact same thing as praying the rosary on beads.

  • Maureen

    No, that’s a normal-sized rosary. Look at the beads in relationship to the hands. The rosary’s got a honking big crucifix, though.

  • john white

    The only witness to the accident was “in shock” according to the story. The story says “what they [the victim and his companion] did not hear…] was the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind. So, the story clearly does not attribute to any witness the manner in which the victim was holding his beads as he was hit. The use of the word “clutch”, in all liklihood, was simply an invention of the journalist. Only he/she knows why he chose that word.

  • Charles Lee

    In my experience, and to keep my own disposition from becoming cynical or disparaging, I try to presume positive intentions. My first thought at seeing the word “clutching” was similar to Frank, #21 above. One clutches something that is precious and of inestimable value. Also, it’s a stretch to imagine the author intending disrespect by describing the rosary as holy beads; it may have been a simple effort to communicate a quality of transcendence as economically as possible to readers who may not have first-hand experience with catholic traditions.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    Actually “clutching” is normally OK. If someone is in an intense moment and thinking of the rosary as a weapon in a spiritual battle then “clutching” is a very good word to use. Like when a pro-life demonstrator is arrested.

    That is precisely why it is a bad word here. This rosary action was very different. He was praying the rosary late at night for at least an hour. That is not when anyone clutches their rosary. That is when you hold a rosary in a gentle, loving sort of way. Maybe the word “caressing” would have given the right image.

  • Mary Grace

    Catholics hold a Rosary and pray.

  • Kate

    No comments about the young Mr. Moore being a “pro-life walker” in the lede. Why the scare quotes? Couldn’t he just have been a pro-life walker? Say, Andrew Moore and his fellow barefoot jogger; Andrew Moore and his fellow “barefoot jogger”. Those quotes are to make you raise your eyebrows at the truth of the phrase…

  • http://www.theradiorosary.net Joe Ott

    It sounds like young Andrew was “clutching” his Rosary beads like a young child clutches the hands of his or her Mother. When we pray the Rosary , Mary’s hand moves along with ours as we meditate on the life , death , and resurrection of Her son our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Marcy

    As a new Catholic, I have noticed many of my Brothers and Sisters see offence where none is meant. Trust me when I say, most +/- 95% of all non-Catholics Don’t know our Catholic specific terminology.

    P.S. – May God’s love be with the families of these victims.

  • SouthCoast

    “Former Insurance Rep here and “conservative” Catholic. If a vehicle goes onto a grassy median and was not out of control, then it was deliberate.” Former Traffic Engineer here concurs, unless more specific evidence is forthcoming. OTOH, If he were just on the edge of the road, it’s possibly an accident: there is an unfortunate, and too-often lethal, tendency for some drivers to unconsciously steer in the direction their eyes are gazing. Which is why, if you get a flat and pull over, you should get as FAR from the edge of the road as you possibly can.

  • northcoast

    A better photo of Mr. Moore is available with a tribute from his father: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/joseph-moores-moving-tribute-to-his-son-andrew-who-died-during-crossroads-w/.

    This engineer is bothered by the confusion in the reporting of the technical details of Mr. Moore’s death. “What they apparently did not hear was the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind as they walked in the grassy median of the four-lane divided highway. Moore, a 20-year-old college student from Concord, Calif., was struck from behind and died quickly on the highway.” This brief sketch can hardly provide comfort for the the driver involved in this tragedy.

  • RS

    My fellow graduates of Thomas Aquinas College say they “hold” their rosaries.

    It is, by the way, “Thomas Aquinas College,” simply, not “St. Thomas Aquinas College,” as in the article. Google tells me there is a “St. Thomas Aquinas College” in New York. Again, the Roman Catholic college in Santa Paula, California is “Thomas Aquinas College,” “TAC” to its friends and alumni.

  • northcoast

    Sorry, but the more I think about the description of this tragedy, the more questions come to my mind. Were the people just careless enough to walk with their backs to approaching traffic? Why didn’t the driver see them? Since 5:00 a.m. is evidently before sunrise in Indiana, wouldn’t the walkers be aware of the lights of the occasional approaching car? Were they walking in the grassy median, or were they in the graded strip between the pavement and the grass? (Walking in a highway median in the dark could be kind of hazardous.)