Saint Rose of Lima, by Anna D Cook

stained glass window of Saint Rose of Lima; date and artist unknown; Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA; photographed by the author summer 2003First flow’ret of the desert wild!
  Whose leaves the sweets of grace exhale
We greet thee, Lima’s sainted child –
  Rose of America, all hail! all hail!

Saint Rose, Patroness of America and the Philippines, was born in Lima, Peru. April 20, 1586 of Marie de Florez. Although of noble birth they had not much of this world’s wealth yet lived in comfortable circumstances.

The name given to her in baptism was Isabel. How it was changed to Rose is thus narrated: About three months after her baptism while sleeping peacefully in her crib a beautiful rose was seen to fashion itself upon her countenance and henceforth she was known to all only by the name Rose.

Her god-mother, Isabel de Herera, after whom she was called was very much displeased at this and showed her displeasure in many acts of rudeness toward the child until the Archbishop of Lima gave her the name in Confirmation. This put an end to all the dissension among her relatives especially to the opposition of her god-mother.

Our Lord manifested His approval later when Rose, growing in virtue and humility and dreading that the name had been given her for some vain purpose, went to a nearby Dominican Church to pour out her fears and anxieties to Him concerning it. While praying she heard from a certain image of Our Lady kept in the Rosary Chapel a voice distinctly say: Your name is very pleasing to the Son I bear in my arms; but henceforth you must add mine to it, and be called Rose of Saint Mary. Your soul is to be a fragrant flower, consecrated to Jesus of Nazareth. Rose was overjoyed and troubled no more about it. Many times in her life God made this flower the symbol of His love for this Rose of Saint Mary

Rose’s mother, a most virtuous and pious woman, instilled into her little daughter’s heart those early lessons in piety, impressions of which made upon the human soul before its contact with the world seem to remain always indelibly stamped therein.

Rose was one of the family of eleven children and enjoyed in her own simple and natural manner the pastimes of her brothers, sisters and playmates. From these however she would often steal away to a small hut that she had made in her father’s garden with palm leaves and branches of trees to say some prayers or perform some little act of devotion unmolested.

These childlike devotions were the preface to Rose’s life of prayer and sacrifice which lasted even to the grave and which He crowned with so many extraordinary graces and gifts.

Rose’s life of piety never stood in the way of other duties. It was never disagreeable. She fulfilled as her biographers tell us, “the daily round, the common task in a most uncommon spirit.” Often was she compelled to perform tasks which were far beyond the strength and constitution of such a frail, delicate child. With the help of Divine assistance, made manifest on many occasions she was able to do all and offered up every cross as a little act of compensation for the sufferings of her Lord.

Many ancedotes are related of Rose’s childhood which show the character of the Saint – her humility – her obedience – and above all her charity. One tells how her mother knowing her beauty and wishing to draw the admiration of others to it, made her place upon her head a wreath of flowers. Rose though always obedient, reluctantly submitted but knowing that crowns of roses fade while crowns of thorns endure, made of the garland a crown of the latter by fixing it on her head with a large needle which could only be removed with difficulty.

In many similar instances when her mother wished her to adorn her body with beautiful clothes she sought to subdue any thoughts of vanity that might arise in her by secret acts of penance and mortification.

She yielded obedience not only to those to whom she was obliged but to all around her not excepting the servants of the house.

Her charity was boundless. Unlike many young people Rose gave it first expression in her own home, where she tenderly cared for her parents early and late, in sickness or health and tried by her filial ministrations to lavish upon them that love which God seemed to pour so abundantly into the heart of His little maid.

To any and all in need this same kindness was extended and when not occupied at home she devoted her time to the sick and needy elsewhere.

As Rose grew into girlhood her father lost his means and she was obliged to assist her parents in their necessity. Her skill in embroidery being known throughout her city she was able to dispose of her work very readily. She likewise cultivated a little garden in which she raised violets and other flowers which she sold.

Both these means being insufficient however to relieve all their wants she herself has said that God supplied what was wanting in secret and miraculous ways.

When Rose was about fifteen or sixteen years old her friends, knowing her beauty and character wished her to marry. Many of the first youths in her city sought her hand; but Rose in childhood had consecrated herself to God and would listen to none of their entreaties. As soon as she was free to adopt her own choice she hastened to give herself entirely to Him.

Whether to serve Him as a member of some religious community or to do so by herself was a matter of great trouble to her at this time. Having from her earliest years been greatly attracted to Saint Catherine of Sienna who was a Dominican Nun of the Third Order she longed to follow in her footsteps.

When her thoughts became known all the Convents of Lima, aware of her beautiful qualities, were anxious to receive her. There were two which attracted her greatly. One was the Convent of Saint Clare which was just beginning to be established – the other the Convent of the Incarnation.

She had decided to join the latter and was making final preparations to enter when a miraculous occurrence in the Church of Saint Dominic caused her to change her decision and return to her original intention of becoming a member of his Order. She had prayed much in the Rosary Chapel of this Church and the Sunday before she was to have entered the Convent of the Incarnation went there to offer her last bouquet of prayers at the shrine she had so faithfully tended when a child. Having finished her devotions she attempted to arise but suddenly found herself rivited to the spot and the combined strength of herself and her brother who happened to be in the place at the time, was insufficient to move her. An inspiration then came to her that this was a sign from God that she was to remain under the care of Saint Dominic. Resolving at once to conform to His will she was instantly released and returned home.

Our Lord, it is said pleased at her decision sent, a day or two after this event, a beautiful butterfly of black and white hues – the colors of the Dominican habit – fluttering about her head as she was meditating in the garden. This she interpreted as an evidence of Divine approval. She decided to imitate her beloved Saint Catherine living as a member of the Third Order in the world.

* * *

On August 10, 1606, at the age of 21, she received the habit of Saint Dominic from the hands of Reverend Father Alphonse Velasquez, in the same chapel where as a little child she was accustomed to pray and meditate.

When during the days of her novitiate she was seized with fear lest she should be unable to remain steadfast living in the world our Lord revealed to her in a vision that He wished her to live and die a Dominican and that He would give her strength to persevere.

Her profession soon followed – “I have bought the habit of our Holy Father Saint Dominic” she is said to have exclaimed, “with so many tears and sighs and so many fasts and prayers in order that I may live a hidden life.”

To follow her vocation she withdrew to her parents’ house in Lima. Here she was often visited by other members of her Order and a few pious ladies, who eagerly caught the pearls of wisdom that dropped from her lips, for we may be sure no words of idle gossip ever found place there.

Rose, though glad to share with these her pious practises, had always yearned for solitude. The little Rose had loved to run away from her playmates and hide in her tiny hermitage in the garden to pray and be alone with God and the desires of the childish heart seemed to be rekindled.

In the same garden she caused a small room to be constructed, five feet long and four feet wide, where she could retire from the world and ascend higher and higher upon the ladder of sanctity.

To go to church, to help her parents, the sick or dying or to nurse the poor old women whom she would seek out in the city, were the only interruptions in her life of prayer.

From early child-hood she cherished a tender devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Her greatest happiness was to be near our Lord conversing with Him and pleading for the conversion of all in sin.

Loving the Blessed Sacrament as she did, she delighted in taking care of the altar whereon It rests. She made flowers of gold and silk to beautify it and rich tapestries to adorn it. So intent was she that nothing should be wanting in the cleanliness and decoration of the House of God that she would even deprive herself of sleep to have more time to devote to it.

Although living apart everyone loved the gentle Saint – even the animals, the birds, the insects. All seemed to be especially attracted to her. In the morning when she would leave her father’s house to enter her little garden cell the trees and flowers would sway at her approach, the insects start their humming and the birds would burst forth in carol. A story is told of a little bird which throughout Rose’s last Lent upon earth used to come every evening at sunset and perching upon a tree close to her room would pour out a ravishingly sweet song. This it would do until Rose would commence her Vesper hymn, when it would cease. Then alternately would she and her little choir complete the even-song after which it would fly away to return at the same hour the next evening.

Rose’s life among the flowers continued until within three years of her death. During all this time of close companionship with God she was the recipient of many favors at His hands. In this retreat, hiding her face behind her virgin-veil to keep it all unseen from mortal eyes, Rose by her vigils, fasts and prayers shielded souls from sin and many hearts from harm, and drew down from above blessings not only upon herself but her own loved city as well.

As it was revealed to Rose that she would not live to be thirty-two years and that she would die upon the feast of Saint Bartholomew, she felt a great devotion to that Saint and never allowed the feast fail to pass without some special prayers.

Three years before her death she withdrew to the house of Don Gonsalvo de la Massa, an old friend of her family, in order to carry out the wishes of her parents, who had received much kindness at his hands and whom they wished to repay in some measure by granting his request of allowing the Saintly Rose to dwell in his home.

A room was prepared for her similar to her garden cell and she was allowed to spend her time as she wished. The example of her life gave great edification to those with whom she came in contact and her gentle amiable manner endeared her to all.

* * *

With the dawn of her thirty-first year which she knew would never be completed, Rose whose whole life had been a preparation for death began to dispose herself for it with all the fervor of which her Saintly heart was capable. Shortly before her final illness she visited her beloved hermitage in her father’s garden spending two entire days there in prayers and thanksgiving.

God, who seemed to have designed Rose to be a “living image of His crucified life,” filled her last days with suffering in order that they might more closely resemble His. With the same joy and resignation that had characterized her whole life she bore all in patience. When the happy day of release came, which the Saint had so long and ardently desired she begged her brother to place her upon two pieces of wood arranged in the form of a cross. Then thanking all about her for their kindness and begging pardon for her offenses against them she sweetly yielded up her life and her pious soul flew into the arms of Him Who she knew was waiting to receive it. The Matins of the feast of Saint Bartholomew, August 24, 1617, were sung by Saint Rose in Heaven.

Who could tell of the welcome that she received, of the joys and thanksgiving of the Saints who attended her or the glories that awaited her? We have a glimpse of the majesty with which God surrounded her in the revelations of those persons whom He so signally favored. Well might they exclaim: “How glorious is the Kingdom in which all the Saints rejoice with Christ!”

* * *

All Lima mourned her loss and rich and poor vied to do her honor. On the evening of the day of her death the Saint’s body was borne forth from De Massa’s house, through a vast throng of people which included both ecclesiastical as well as civil authorities, to the Church of Saint Dominic. They placed her in her beloved Rosary Chapel, the care of whose altars had been one of Rose’s favorite occupations during her entire life. Her interment was postponed twice to satisfy the people’s wish to gaze longer upon her beautiful countenance which in death had been restored to all its original loveliness. At last the Friars took advantage of an opportune time and placed her body in the grave. Later it was removed to the Chapel of Saint Catherine of Sienna, whose life she had so closely imitated.

So numerous were the miracles worked by God through her intercession that we could not undertake to recount them. The dead were raised to life; the sick restored to health; calamities averted. Always the advocate of sinners upon earth she became their special mediator in Heaven and many conversions were obtained through her prayers.

The veil of mystery behind which Rose of Saint Mary endeavored to conceal her life, was gently withdrawn by the church after her death and her glory proclaimed to the world. She was canonized in the year 1871 by Pope Clement X and on August 30 her name is invoked upon our altars.

What may be learned from the life of Saint Rose is best expressed in the words of one of her biographers: “Like her model, Saint Catherine of Seinna, Saint Rose never joined a religious community, but followed the high call that God had given her as a private individual.”

To Catholic women who may be devoting themselves to their neighbor’s service in some independent career, the study of her history may be not without interest and profit.

The difficulties of conditions are doubtless very great between the mystical Spanish maiden of nearly 300 years ago living hidden in her mother’s garden in South America and the strong business-like English or American woman pursuing her active calling in the glare and bustle of a modern city.

Yet, despite the contrast, the account of Saint Rose’s marvellously generous self-sacrifice, of her encouraging even though the inimitable spirit of prayer, zeal and penance joined to a tender delicacy and charm of character which gave brightness to her severe life, may prove to some toilers a refreshing incentive to renewed effort and to a hopeful spirit, and may perhaps at the same time suggest their turning to Saint Rose as a special intercessor for their work.

“And whilst amid His glories now,
  Thou seest Him face to face – oh, deign;
Saint Rose, to hear thy suppliant’s vow,
  That grace and glory we may gain.”

About This Article

The text of this article was taken from the book History of Saint Rose’s Church, to which is added a brief sketch of the life of St. Rose, compiled by Anna D Cook and published by the Mangan Press in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1910.