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Religious jewelry shop supports outreach to families experiencing miscarriage

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It began, as many good things do, with a trip to Michaels.


Alison Rizzuto had been given several religious medals since she came into the Catholic Church a few years prior, and she wanted a way to wear them. “I wanted something kind of funky, something modern, and I couldn’t find it,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just make it.’ ” She put her daughter Charlotte on the back of her bike and they rode down to the nearby craft store.


What started as a hobby has become Humble Mission Beads, an Etsy shop where Alison has sold more than 1,000 pieces of faith-inspired jewelry and other products. The platforms it’s provided and the sales she’s made support another passion of hers: helping women through the painful experience of losing an unborn baby.


Alison’s jewelry collection ranges from chunky, 10-bead rosary bracelets to delicate silver and gold necklaces, all featuring a dangling religious medal. The medal often sets the tone for the piece. The Our Lady of the Snows bracelet is made with pearls and white stones; the St. Francis of Assisi bracelet has wooden beads; and a Holy Spirit bracelet has beads meant to be dipped in essential oils so the fragrance can linger for hours.


Many pieces features tassels, which in Numbers, God commanded the Israelites to wear as a reminder not to go “wantonly astray after the desires of your heart and eyes.” Lines from the Litany of Humility appear often, too as humility was on her mind when she named the store. “There’s something about humility that is the key to all of this experience here on earth,” said Alison. “You have to get humiliated to get humble, that's the part we don’t like,” she said with a laugh.


All the Humble Mission items have one thing in common — “God gives me a story for every piece of jewelry,” said Alison. “The idea is a gift. It’s definitely inspiration that I get.” For example, after visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Fla., she began to make necklaces with medals of a nursing Jesus and Mary, paired with an oblong pearl bead that almost looks like a drop of milk.


A friend from church trekked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and returned with medals for Alison. Her mind swirled with the image of footsteps on an earthy path leading to a heavenly destination, so she created anklets with a shell, the symbol of that pilgrimage.


After seeing how much her daughter enjoyed wearing bows that matched the color of the liturgical season, Alison worked with two more friends from her parish, St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, to make a graphic of the liturgical calendar and hair ribbons in each color.


The inspiration for new products and the materials needed to create them come from all over. “It’s not all my ideas. I’m just the instrument,” she said.


Alison always was interested in the arts, but for many years she preferred singing to precious stones and golden chains. When her Florida high school discontinued its arts program, she got her GED certificate and began college at the nearby performing arts school. “I still couldn’t drive so my parents had to drop me off every day for college,” she said. She later transferred to the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y. and graduated in 2007. In between undergraduate and graduate school, she studied in Rochester, N.Y., where she met her future husband Tony, who was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force.

Alison Rizzuto makes an Interior Castle bracelet for her online shop, Humble Mission Beads, while her children play around her.  ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

lr alison rizzuto Tony’s witness eventually brought Alison, who was Protestant, into the Catholic Church. “When we were just friends, we would sit up and talk and we would always have these very interesting conversations. I was always seeking, and he was too,” she said. “I made the choice to go to RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and I didn't tell him (at first). I wanted it to be my decision.


“But then as time has gone on, I realize that God works through people and God used him and his witness of the faith to open my heart and my eyes to what's true,” said Alison. “What better reason than love to draw someone deeper and closer to God?” Alison entered the church in 2011 at St. Leo a few months before the couple married.


Alison was on the faculty of a medical school, working to help singers who had injured their voices get back into performing, when she decided to leave the singing world altogether. “I felt like I was being called out of that work. It started to feel like, it’s time,” she said.


Though she wasn’t sure why at first, Alison now believes God was preparing her for something else. A few months later, she was pregnant with their second child. Then they learned they were going to lose the baby at 12 weeks gestation. It changed their family, and her business, forever.


“We had to explain (the miscarriage) to (our daughter) Charlotte because she was at the appointment for the first ultrasound and there was no heartbeat. We sat down and said, ‘God has decided that everything this baby was meant to do on earth, it has done. And now the baby is in heaven and our job as a family is to try to get there so we can be there together again someday,’ ” said Alison. “Our family had a mission because of that baby. All of a sudden it was like, we’re going to heaven and we’re going to drag along everyone with us that we can.”


Alison was able to give birth to their miscarried child, Francis, at home. A few months later, she miscarried baby Claire. Through the organization A Mom’s Peace, they buried both babies at the St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow. Since then, they have had another child, Leo, who is 2.


Once again, Alison began to create, not with beads but with boxes filled with the things to help a woman retrieve the remains of her child and get through the miscarriage spiritually, emotionally and physically. The bereavement boxes, which are now available on her Etsy site, include Epsom salts, pads, gauze, tea, twinkling lights and a prayer card with a quote from St. Zelie Martin — “We shall find our little ones again up above.”


She mails one or two boxes out a month to women free of charge and funded in part from the shop sales. Some families have volunteered to purchase supplies that cover the rest. “We’ve received messages from women and families that it’s been very healing for them to provide for other women who are going through this,” she said.


Alison’s losses not only inspired the boxes but the jewelry, too. There’s a necklace inscribed with the St. Zelie quote as well as a necklace featuring St. Catherine of Sweden, the patron saint of miscarriages. “People want something to help them remember their little ones and their beautiful family,” she said.


In some ways, that’s what her little shop is all about — providing lovely, wearable reminders of the holy men and women who have gone onto heaven. She’s seeking to encounter God through the saints while stringing together bracelets in her children’s playroom/bead studio. And she’s praying she strings others along with her.


“Tangible, beautiful things can really orient our hearts to (God) because he is good, true and beautiful,” she said. “That’s what I strive to do with my jewelry.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020