St. Rose of Lima

(1586-1617)

It is ironic, and perhaps cautionary, that the first canonized saint of the Western Hemisphere should have been not a man of organized philanthropy but a frail young woman of staggering asceticism and profound mystical gifts.

The future patron of Peru was the daughter of a Spanish conquistador named Gaspar de Flores and his wife Maria de Oliva. She was baptized Isabel, but called Rose. (“She looks like a rose,” exclaimed the Indian servant of the Flores family when she first beheld the beautiful child.) The mother was pleased by this compliment, and thereafter ignored the baptismal name.

Rose found her own beauty perilous. Intensively spiritual in bent, she even tried to scar her features when people praised her good looks. To please her mother, she wore a wreath of roses, but beneath it she placed something like a crown of thorns. We are not called on to imitate the saints in their particular methods of mortification, but their penances should always remind us that in our necessary efforts to follow God’s will, we must not allow our own wills to become stumbling blocks.

St. Catherine of Siena, it seems, became the model whom Rosa de Flores selected. When those around her ridiculed this ambition, she stood her ground. It was her desire to enter a religious order. Her parents forbade it, however, and she accepted their veto. But to counter their nagging insistence that she marry, she took a private vow of chastity. Then, when she was twenty, she enrolled in the Dominican Third Order. Thereafter she wore a habit of a Dominican tertiary. Unable to become a nun, she finally discovered an equivalent on her own property: a little hut at the end of the garden where she could live and work and pray much like a hermitess.

In her prayer life, Rose suffered far more from interior pains than from the scorn of her associates. For fifteen years she endured agonizing spiritual desolation. But she was also rewarded by visions of her guardian angel, of St. Catherine, and of the Blessed Virgin. Her greatest consolation was to hear from the lips of Christ himself, “Rose of my heart, be my spouse.”

The penitent of Lima was not so involved in prayer, however, as to neglect others. When her parents came upon hard times, she labored day and night to support them, raising beautiful flowers for sale, and doing fine needlework on order. She also set up a little infirmary in one room in which she took care of impoverished children and ailing seniors. This marked the beginning of social service in her native city.

Despite the criticism that many had visited on Rose, she won a great crowd of admirers among the local citizenry. When she died on August 16, 1617–a date that she had exactly foretold–the throngs who came to her wake were so great that the funeral had to be postponed several days.

Beatified in 1668, in 1671 she was canonized as “St. Rose of St. Mary,” and proclaimed patron, not only of Peru, but of all America, the West Indies, and the Philippine Islands.

Ask her to help you, then, Catholics of the United States. She is one of our official spokes-women.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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