by Todd Habiger
ONAGA — The doctor who delivered Francis Koelzer was so sure the baby would die that he didn’t bother to make out a birth certificate. Francis was what they call a “blue baby” — a baby with a heart defect.
Francis’ mother quickly performed an emergency baptism on her son, fearing he might die before she could get him to a priest.
Eighty-six years later, Francis, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul in Onaga, can only laugh at the circumstances surrounding his birth. But he knows who to thank for his long life — the Blessed Mother.
“When I was 18 years old, I promised Mary that I would say the rosary every day for the rest of my life,” he said.
He has kept that promise.
Although he only had eight years of formal education, Francis possesses a brilliant mind.
His home features a greenhouse he built by hand. Inside, a variety of plants flourish — including some that are about 100 years old.
Do you like wine? Francis makes his own.
This is a man who left school to become a blacksmith and was excellent at it. Health problems led him to leave that profession and take a home course from DeVry Technical Institute, which taught him to repair radios and televisions.
Soon he branched off into repairing washers, dryers, refrigerators and medical equipment.
He quickly became one of the best repairmen around. Whenever there was a difficult problem, Francis was the man his company sent to troubleshoot it. He was so good that he was rewarded with free vacations all over the world. He’s been to Rome, India, Africa, Mexico and Fatima — all on the company’s dime.
Francis credits the Blessed Mother for helping him make it to age 18 and beyond.
But it’s not been easy. The list of miracles he attributes to Mary is astonishing.
- He fainted frequently as a teen due to his heart defect, but doesn’t any longer. His heart healed without surgery.
- The day before surgery to fix a blood problem in his legs, the symptoms mysteriously disappeared and surgery was canceled.
- He accidentally backed a vehicle over his 2-year-old son who escaped with nothing but a tire print across his torso.
- He survived a long fall from a staircase that collapsed beneath him.
“That’s the power of God and the Blessed Mother,” Francis said.
The rosary maker
These days, Francis puts all his efforts into honoring Mary by making rosaries with his wife Helen. Not your run-of-the-mill rosaries but big ones, made to display.
“I feel like making these big rosaries plays a bigger role to the Blessed Mother than little rosaries,” he said. “People will take them home and hang them up and they will see that rosary day after day after day. With a little rosary, they may toss it in a drawer and not see it again for five years.”
The couple has been making large rosaries for about 15 years.
“We figured we have made at least 6,000 rosaries,” Helen said. “We give them away to anyone who wants one.”
“We’ve been offered money, but we don’t make them for money. We don’t have much money. We have very little, but what do we need with money?” Francis said with a chuckle.
Father Mariadas Sesetti, parochial administrator of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, has been impressed with Francis’ devotion to the Blessed Mother.
“It’s an expression of Francis’ gratitude,” said Father Sesetti. “He thinks, somehow, that Mary’s intervention is very powerful on him.
“His giving rosaries to people is like giving his devotion to Mary to others.”