Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of St. Rose of Lima.

Today the Church remembers the 17th-century Dominican tertiary Rose of Lima, the first person born in the Americas to be canonized. Today's memorial is significant for me because, as some readers may recall, St. Rose of Lima was the name of my home parish. The same readers will recall that St. Rose of Lima Parish was suppressed last year as part of a wide-ranging diocesan process of parochial reorganization. I believe I said everything I need to say about the closing of St. Rose of Lima here and here. This post will offer a somewhat different line of reflection on my experiences at St. Rose of Lima, focusing on my awareness of the patron saint of my home parish.

As a kid I had a very vague notion of who Rose of Lima was. I knew she was a woman who had lived a long time ago - how long exactly, I didn't know - and that in some vague sense she lived a life of prayer and service to the poor. I knew that she was from Peru, and in a childish way I found this disappointing - Rose would've been more exotic and intriguing somehow if she had come from Africa, Asia or Europe. (In retrospect, it seems quite ironic that I once viewed Peru as an insufficiently interesting home for a saint; I'll be going to Peru next summer, and the prospect now strikes me as very exciting.) As a child, I was never told about Rose's severe penances or her stigmata, perhaps because the pastor and our CCD teachers thought that modern children would be grossed out by the details - or because the adults themselves were ill at ease with Rose's particular brand of piety. When I was a kid I also knew nothing of Rose's association with the Dominican Order - throughout my childhood, I was almost totally ignorant of the existence of religious orders. It's worth noting that in the sanctuary of my church the requisite statue of St. Rose of Lima was joined by one of St. Martin de Porres, of whom we children learned even less than we did of our patron.

If I'd known something about St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres, I might have wondered what they were doing in a small-town parish in Massachusetts. Years later, I learned that the naming of my parish had a lot to do with the personality of the man who was Archbishop of Boston when the church was built. Richard Cardinal Cushing had a keen interest in Latin America and worked hard to develop stronger links between Catholics in the United States and their co-religionists to the South. Cardinal Cushing's commitment to Latin America found concrete expression in his establishment of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, an organization of diocesan priests who would take a break from parish work in the United States in order to serve the poor in Latin America. (The priests who delivered the annual mission appeal in my home parish were almost always connected with the St. James Society.) Another expression of Cardinal Cushing's affection for the Latin American Church came in the naming of new churches like mine. By naming a parish in a small, fairly homogeneous Massachusetts town after the patron saint of Peru, Cardinal Cushing presumably hoped to give the parishioners a greater sense of the universal Church in general and more awareness of the Latin American Church in particular. If this was indeed the Cardinal's hope, in my experience it was imperfectly realized in Rochester. That said, I do find it interesting that after having grown up in a parish named for Rose of Lima I ended up joining a Jesuit province with strong historical ties to Peru, and that furthermore I'll be spending time in the country during my novitiate. Cardinal Cushing, I'm sure, would be pleased. AMDG.


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