Herc Battilega is seen as a Catholic evangelist in his care home.
Herc Battilega is seen as a Catholic evangelist in his care home.
FOREST GROVE — Every Sunday at Mass, Herc Battilega has rosaries blessed by the pope spilling out of his pockets. He gives them to everyone he meets who doesn’t already have one of his or her own.

Every year, this Italian-American Catholic goes through a couple hundred of the plastic rosaries, which come from his nephew, Father Joseph Betschart at the North American College in Vatican City.

Whenever he gives one away, Battilega says, “Here’s a rosary from Rome. Keep this with you all the time, even if you don’t pray. As long as you have it with you, you will meet no harm.”

So far, Battilega says, it’s held true.

The 97-year-old Forest Grove resident gave one to a friend headed off to Iraq, a non-Catholic, who carried the rosary with him through three military tours and made it home unscathed.

Battilega is known by residents at the Jennings McCall Assisted Living Center for the rosary group he’s led every night since June 2009.

On the residence’s social calendar, “7 p.m. Rosary Prayer w/Herc” appears in each little square — the only group at the center that meets every single day.

Many who come aren’t even Catholic.

Battilega was born in Italy and came through Ellis Island in 1921. He remembers his grandmother in Italy — she always had a rosary in her hand.

Battilega and his wife Odelia, who passed away in 2009, raised four children and lived most of their lives in Milwaukie and Portland. They moved to Forest Grove five years ago to be closer to their daughter Mary Dierickx.

“My dad is the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life,” Dierickx said. “He lifts people up.”

Battilega always has a kind word for neighbors and visitors, and if he can’t think of a saying off the top of his head, he’s got it printed out somewhere.

The walls of his room are papered with uplifting sayings and photos of his family, many of which he types up on a computer in his room.

Residents look forward to their nightly group.

“We’re supposed to say the rosary every day,” said Dorothy Duyck, a resident at Jennings McCall who lived in Roy for 50 years.

“When I do it alone, I do it at bedtime and fall asleep. This way we say it all together, and we don’t let one another fall asleep.”

On most nights, the roster includes Battilega, Dierickx, Duyck, Tony Bolek, Evelyn VanDoren, Viola Vandehey, Betty Schmidt, Rita Vanderzanden, Pauline Illias and Grace Christiensen.

St. Anthony parishioner Jake Walsh takes Communion to the center’s residents.
He said Battilega lives and breathes his Catholic faith.

“He’s recognized as a holy guy,” he said. “I’m amazed at the vigor he shows in trying to make sure everybody has a chance to pray and to know God and Catholicism.”