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A Favorite Saint

Fr. Rick Walsh, CSP
October 6, 2023

I want to share with you a true story of a most remarkable communication I had in my prayer to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower.

When I first answered “the call”, I didn’t think too much about what kind of priest I might want to be as I grew up apart from Catholic schooling and I only knew the diocesan priests at my local parish – St. Albert the Great in East Weymouth.

So, upon entering St. John’s Seminary College in Brighton in my junior year, I was fairly ignorant about many ecclesial notions and vocabulary. I made friends with one of the men who had some things in common with me, including having an older brother die prematurely. My brother was killed in 1980 in a car accident and my friend’s brother was killed in the midst of a drug deal gone bad.

Early on, some of the more pious students introduced a prayer card with an image of a nun on it who was holding a bouquet of roses. They talked excitedly about a certain novena that could be prayed to this saint who had the habit (pun intended) of answering prayer requests that were brought to her. The way a person knew that she heard their prayer and promised to assist was that the petitioner would receive a sign of a rose or roses. We were told it would be something unusual about the way the rose would appear.

This tradition goes back to when the 24 year old saint was on her deathbed, (her suffering from TB lasted for more than a year!) when she told the sisters gathered around her that she would spend her time in heaven “showering the earth with roses”. Apparently, after Thérèse passed away, some of the sisters must have tested her with prayer requests and sure enough, each received a rose in some fashion.

The other reason for her popularity in the early 20th century was that she was the first declared saint that we had a photograph of!

After being given the prayer card, the first thing I thought to myself was, “What’s a novena?” After learning the instructions were given on the back of the prayer card, I read them. The petitioner was to pray for nine consecutive days (hence the word novena) 5 Our Father’s, 5 Hail Mary’s, 5 Glory Be’s along with a lovely little rhyming prayer asking:

“Dear St. Thérèse please pick me a rose from your heavenly garden above
and send it to me with a message of love.
Tell God to grant me the favor I thee implore
and tell Him each day I will love Him more and more.”

But there was a catch in the instructions, which I thought to be a bit absurd. The prayers were to be said before 11am each day! I remember boldly thinking to myself, “Well what happens after 11am? Is this her coffee break and she just can’t listen to any more prayers?”

But I decided to pray for my friend’s brother whose death was not what one would call a moment of grace – seeking to sell or buy drugs.

So I began to dutifully pray the novena. However, on day four and then again on the sixth day, I almost forgot to say the prayers before 11am! I quickly said them under my breath in the middle of classes on ecclesiology and New Testament studies.

I didn’t very much relish the thought of having to start all over again if I missed a day of prayer, so I struck a bargain with this young saint. (Admittedly, it was a one-sided deal.) I told her that I would stop praying this novena on the 7th day. One week would have to suffice for her to pluck a rose and send it to me. I called this shortened novena a “Septima”.

But I had another concern. “When am I going to receive this heaven-sent rose? Will I get it within a month, a year, or will I be 88 years old when my rose arrives?”

I told St. Thérèse I would give her one week from the 7th day of prayer. As the days went by, my curiosity grew as to whether I would get a rose.

On the day of the deadline that I imposed upon her, I had two experiences where I saw roses in an unusual way. I had a haircut appointment in the early evening. After playing tackle football in the mud that day, I took a shower to get ready for my trip to the stylist. While removing the dirt from my hair and skin, I had the strangest notion that I saw dead roses in the mud when I got tackled. Did I really see roses in the mud in late October?

On my way to the haircut, I walked over to the area where we played, but I didn’t see any roses.

Soon afterward, while walking into Brighton Center, I passed by a florist shop and lo and behold there were dozens of roses pressed up against the entire large glass panel.

“That doesn’t count!”, I said to St. Thérèse. There is nothing unusual about roses in a florist shop.

After my hair cut, as the sun was setting, I gave our little saint an ultimatum that she had from the place I then stood until I reached the front door of the seminary to show me a rose.

Up ahead a UPS truck pulled away from the curb. Near that area was a nice little Irish Goods shop I frequently visited. It was owned and run by an older Irish woman we’ll call Mrs. McGillacuddy. When I entered her store, she apologized to me saying that she was too busy to talk to me. There were many boxes on the floor that were just delivered. They were the first of her Christmas items that she would sell.

“No Problem”, I said as I scanned the various Beleek china and Waterford crystal pieces she had on her shelves. When I got to the cash register counter, I saw something I had not seen in her store before. On the counter were some tiny gold-wrapped chocolates and each piece had a little plastic red or pink rose on it.

“When did you start selling these chocolates Mrs. McGillacuddy?”, I asked.

She turned around from her inventory and with reading glasses down over her nose she asked me, “By any chance, did you say a novena to St. Thérèse?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I told her I had and she got all excited as she explained that she had a great devotion to the “Little Flower”.  She went on to say that the UPS man had just delivered all the boxes that were on the floor and that the first box she opened was the one with the chocolates. She opened it first because she didn’t recognize the vendor. It was an  introductory offer of free chocolates to share with her customers.

“When I saw the roses on each chocolate, I said a prayer that the person who prayed to my favorite saint, Thérèse, would know that his/her prayer was heard. Rick, I put that on the counter no more than 10 seconds before you came in!”

Excited, I almost ran back to tell my friend about all that happened, for you’ll remember that I was praying to know that his brother was accepted and loved by God.

As I finished my story, telling him that the novena was for his brother, he began to cry. I was surprised by his tears as he was not the type to show emotion.

He said, “Rick, my brother was killed ten years ago today!”

So now you know why St. Thérèse, the Little Flower is one of my favorite saints!