St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617)
As is the case with many saints in the Catholic Church, the life of St. Rose of Lima has become surrounded with legend. She was born on April 20, 1586 to Gaspar de Flores, a Spainiard, and Maria d’Olivia, an Inca woman. She was christened Isabella de Santa Maria de Flores.
There are two different stories about how she came about to be called Rose, both of which have apparent merit. One says that her mother began calling her Rose because of her extraordinary beauty and rose-colored complexion; the other version says that she took the name Rose as her confirmation name.St. Rose’s family seems to have been quite wealthy at one time but, for reasons unknown, her family lost its wealth. All of her biographers tell of Rose’s beauty. According to one biographer, she had several suitors, all of whom she refused in order to devote her life to God. In another version, her beauty attracted the attentions of a wealthy Spainiard who wanted to marry her. She refused him despite the urgings of her mother.
Rose spent much of her life living as a semi-recluse in a small shack in the rear of her family’s garden. She took St. Catherine of Sienna as her model, and tried to imitate her life in every way.
One story relates that one day a black and white butterfly settled on Rose’s shoulder. She took this as a sign that God wanted her to take the black and white habit of the Order of St. Dominic. Rose joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and wore the habit daily.
Rose lived an aesthetic life in her garden shack. She prayed a great deal and did not allow herself any material luxuries. Initially she was ridiculed for her austere life-style. But she began to experience visions of Jesus and other mystical gifts.
A commission of doctors and priests was appointed to examine her and determine the authenticity of her visions. The commission concluded that Rose’s visions and other mystical experiences were indeed supernatural in origin. Word of her holiness spread throughout Lima and she attracted the attention of many who came to her garden retreat to witness her holiness.
To help her family earn money, she stitched pictures of the birds in the garden to sell, worked in the garden to raise fruits and vegetables for sale, and, with her friend Mariana, raised, dried, and sold medicinal herbs.
It is also said that Rose traveled through Lima visiting, comforting, and caring for the sick. One version of her life tells of how she established a clinic in her home for the sick poor of Lima. In this clinic, she had a statue of Jesus dressed as a doctor; the statue was apparently referred to as “Mediquito.” Rose intended that the statue instill hope in the sick who visited her, but many miracles were attributed to it by the people of Lima.
Rose was not only concerned with the plight of the sick poor, but also with the Spanish treatment of the native Peruvians. She protested against cruelty with which the Spanish conquerors of Peru treated the native people and plundered the wealth of their country.
At about age 27 or 28, Rose became quite ill as a result of her constant self-denial. She accepted an invitation from Don Gonzalo de Massa and his wife to come live with them so that they could care for her. She spent the last three years of her life in their home. She died on August 24 or 25, 1617, at the age of thirty-one.
Pope Clement X canonized her in 1671, making her the first person born in the Western Hemisphere to be sainted. Her body is now in a special chapel in the Church of San Domingo (Saint Dominic) in Lima. The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Rose of Lima on August 30th.