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She lived in a hut in her family’s backyard and sold needlework to support the poor. Yet, her funeral was held in a cathedral and attended by dignitaries. Meet St. Rose of Lima, lay Dominican, apostle to the poor and first western-born saint.
Born in Lima, Peru on April 20, 1586, Isabel Flores de Oliva was the daughter of Maria de Oliva y Herrara, and Gaspar Flores, a cavalryman in the Spanish Army. A family servant once said that baby Isabel’s face was beautiful, “like a rose,” and from that point on the baby was called Rose.
Even as a child, Rose was drawn to spiritual practices. As she grew up, she spent much time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and was a daily communicant. One of her role models was St. Catherine of Siena.
Rose wished to join religious life, but her parents refused, wishing her to marry. Possessed of great beauty, when her parents once tried to arrange a marriage for her, Rose cut off her hair and rubbed peppers on her face to blister it.
Her parents finally compromised; they would not allow her to become a nun and live in a convent, but would allow her to become a Third Order Dominican. Rose adopted a life of austerity and asceticism. She moved into a hut in her parents’ backyard and spent what time she could alone in prayer and mortification.
She wore the simple garb of the tertiary Dominicans. She also fashioned a metal crown with small spikes to mimic the spikes on the Crown of Thorns and wore it daily as part of her practice of mortification. She lived on a simple diet of mostly bread and water, much prayer, and little sleep. It was said that she had visions of Jesus, and at times was attacked by the Devil.
Rose was skilled at lacemaking and embroidery and sold these hand crafted items, along with flowers from her garden, to earn money to help her family and the poor. Rose often brought sick and needy people to her hut to tend to them.
Such was the power of her holiness that one account says when Dutch pirates arrived in the town harbor, Rose rounded up the locals at the church to pray for protection. When the pirates invaded the church, they were startled to find Rose aglow as if on fire, holding a monstrance. They ran back to their ships and left, leaving the city unscathed.
Despite her simple life, Rose was connected to other well-known saints. She was confirmed by archbishop Toribio de Mogrovejo, who was later canonized, and she counted St. Martin dePorres, another Dominican and advocate for the poor, among her saintly friends.
Her strict living practices took a toll on her health, and she died at the age of 30 on Aug. 24, 1617. Legend says that roses rained from the sky when she died. Her funeral was a huge public event held at the Lima cathedral, attended by hundreds of people and many church dignitaries.
St. Rose is the first western-born person to be named a saint by the Catholic Church. Her shrine is near that of her friend, St. Martin dePorres. Her skull, adorned with a crown of roses, is on public display in Lima.
She is the patron saint of Peru and Latin America. She holds such prominence in Peruvian culture that, ironically, a likeness of this advocate for the poor appears on one of their banknotes.
St. Rose of Lima’s feast day is August 23.
In addition to Peru and Latin America, she is also the patron of the Philippines and florists.
Read a lovely prayer to St. Rose of Lima here: https://www.nashvilledominican.org/prayer/litanies/litany-of-st-rose-of-lima/
Learn more about traveling to her shrine in Peru here: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g294316-d548261-Reviews-Church_and_Sanctuary_of_Saint_Rose_of_Lima-Lima_Lima_Region.html and here: https://www.schoenstatt.org/en/covenant/2018/09/pilgrimage-to-the-st-rose-of-lima-shrine/