David Calvillo used to think praying the rosary was for "old ladies and funerals."
Then he went to a Catholic men's retreat in 2008, where for the first time he felt the rosary's spiritual power as he prayed it with 79 other men.
Calvillo, 49, is now on a crusade to convince Catholics that "real men pray the rosary," the name he gave a nonprofit he founded last year.
The rosary, a cycle of prayers said while worshippers finger a string of beads, is not gender-specific. Yet many men say they have always associated the rosary with women, especially older females.
There's no way to know whether the number of men praying the rosary is increasing, but nearly 9,000 people have indicated they like "Real Men Pray the Rosary" on the group's Facebook page.
Angel Perez, 49, of Rialto, Calif., changed his view of the rosary after he heard a priest at a Catholic conference several years ago exhort men to pray the rosary to grow spiritually, strengthen their families and serve as an example to their children.
Two male parishioners of St. Martha Catholic Church in Murrieta, Calif., clutch their rosary beads during a weekly prayer group. To attract males, there are increasingly popular "sports rosaries" that feature beads in the shape of footballs, soccer balls, basketballs and hockey pucks.
"He said, 'Prayer is not just for women,' " said Perez, who now regularly recites the rosary with his wife and 15-year-old son. "And I thought, 'You're right.' We men sometimes think that if we pray the rosary that we're not the same men as before. On the contrary, we are men who are believers in God."
In addition to praying at home, Perez said in Spanish that he tries to attend a weekly rosary prayer group.
Sometimes, all of the 15 to 20 people at that Tuesday prayer are women, said Perez's wife, Josefina, 49, who leads the group. Members are hoping to add a second, nighttime rosary prayer, to attract more men and younger women, who are more likely to be working on weekday mornings, she said.
There are several variations to rosaries but they typically include 53 repetitions of a prayer to Mary, six Lord's Prayers and one of four sets of five "mysteries," which are significant events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.
The beads help worshippers keep track of each prayer without having to concentrate, leaving the mind better able to meditate upon the prayers. Members of other faiths, including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, also use beads during prayer.
Although rosaries are most common among Catholics, other Christians, including some Lutherans, Episcopalians and Orthodox Christians, also recite series of prayers while touching beads.
There is no obligation in the Catholic Church to pray the rosary but it has long been beloved among many Catholics.