Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
There’s no limit to the ways St. Thérèse has to shower a rose, or roses, in answer to prayers for her intercession.
In some cases, when St. Thérèse answers with a rose, it’s not a visible flower but the almost overwhelming scent of roses when no flowers are present.
Barb Wilmes shares how a couple of years ago, “I decided I needed some heavenly intervention to help me to find a good, strong, Catholic husband. I prayed to St. Thérèse for months, not ending at one novena, but simply continuing along into another set of nine days for a long time.”
Then a few months after starting her novenas, Barb said she “had such a strong scent of roses that I was surprised no one else could smell it. I was at my parents' home with some of my siblings and friends, and no one made any comment about an unusual floral smell. When I told my mom, she knew right away that it was an answer from St. Thérèse.”
Two months later she met her future Ed in a Catholic young adult group. They were married a year later.
Ed also experienced a strong smell of roses after praying to St. Thérèse to help him find a job, Barb adds. Laid off when the company moved his group, he prayed to St. Thérèse. Receiving “an overpowering scent of roses,” he asked Barb if she was using a different laundry detergent or fabric softener on his clothes. She couldn’t smell anything at all but, she said, “I knew what he was experiencing, as I had experienced that myself. Shortly after that, he had a great job offer. We love St. Thérèse!”
This month the Wilmes will celebrate their 27th anniversary. They have five wonderful children and Ed, God willing, will be ordained as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Colorado Springs in May 2020.
More than One Sense
Sometimes the rose arrives in other unexpected and quite unusual ways.
Wayne B. Smith tells his story of how several years ago he had a spiritual battle going on in his life and soul. He said, “I am a convert from Judaism and atheism to the Catholic Church, and I had a full plate of bad habits following me.” Then a friend took him to the National Shrine of St. Thérèse in the Chicago suburb of Darien, Illinois.
“When we arrived at the Shrine my friend guided me to a first class relic of St. Thérèse but it was behind glass. Since I could not see the relic itself,” Wayne wrote, explaining that he is blind, he “planned to just say a prayer and to venerate the relic. My friend said that I could touch the glass so I did so only expecting to touch a meaningless plate of glass. As soon as I touched the glass a shock of sensation shot up my arm and into my body and my soul. I was stunned in more ways than one.”
“At that point,” he continues, “I thanked the Little Flower and asked if she would help me with my spiritual battles and send me a rose as a sign.”
Some days went by and, Wayne notes, “I was battling my demons with a bit more success. I wondered if it was St. Thérèse that was the cause, but I had not been given a rose. I said to her, ‘You said that you would give a rose as a sign that you were praying for us but I have never gotten that rose.’”
Later that same day, Wayne needed to shop for groceries. White cane in hand, he arrived at the store where he asked store employees to help him pick up what he needed. Next, he said, as “we started down the aisle, just then a new song came over the store PA system. It was Bette Midler singing The Rose. I laughed to myself and said, Thanks!”
St. Thérèse does have a playful sense of humor at times. Another such case happened to Elizabeth Bertacchi who had prayed the novena during a difficult time years ago. She mentions that at the same time she was also giving up some favorite foods and drinks.
“I finished the novena and was keeping my eyes open for my rose,” she explains. “My fast ended very shortly thereafter, and a friend, wanting to give me a treat, decided to gift me with a bottle of wine. He didn’t know much about wine, but one particular bottle on the shelf was calling to him, so he bought it and gave it to me. Of course, it was none other than a bottle of rosé!”
St. Thérèse playful sense of humor in some of these answered prayers has even, in Seth Keller’s case, appeared at first glance to be a mixed-up message.
When Seth was serving a year with NET Ministries directly after high school, he was praying very much about his vocation. He desperately wanted to know what God was calling him to do. When he heard another missionary telling how a novena to St. Thérèse with the intention of helping with a future choice that resulted with the Little Flower giving a rose with the answer, Seth decided to try it.
“At that point, I did not really have any special devotion to St. Thérèse,” he said, “As I began the novena I decided to ask for red roses if I was being called to the priesthood and white roses if I was being called to marriage.”
On the final day of his novena, he was in Vermont where his missionary team was leading retreats. There he decided to finish his novena alone in the church where they were.
“At some point, I realized that in front of the altar was one vase of flowers, containing both red and white roses,” he said. “At first I was very confused and thought that God was playing some sort of a joke on me, but upon further investigation, I realized that the white roses were wilting, whereas the red roses were in full bloom. At first, I didn't know exactly how to take this, but after a few moments, I took it to mean that God was calling me to the priesthood. Then, I decided to sit down and sing a hymn in thanksgiving to God.”
Then as he picked up one of the hymnals in the pew, an index card fell out onto the floor. On it he read the words, “Your novena will be answered no matter how difficult.” He immediately connected this with his St. Thérèse novena. “I knew that St. Thérèse was speaking to me through this sign along with the roses.”
Today Seth is at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, a Transitional Deacon for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, and hopes to be ordained a priest in May 2020. Naturally, his devotion to St. Thérèse has grown tremendously.
Great Comfort, Never Forgotten
From happy occasions to the saddest ones, St. Thérèse is always around to help.
Brenda Longman wrote that she has had many roses from St Thérèse since the early 1990’s. She insists, “I did not find her... she found me.”
The most significant time she received a rose from St. Thérèse happened in August 2011. Her sons Michael and Anthony, who she and husband Keith adopted from Guatemala, played all day. “It was Wednesday,” she said.
“Thursday my oldest son Michael, age 8, woke up with a fever and flu symptoms. He was unwell all day. Friday morning, I took him to Emergency. He suffered two cardiac arrests and was transferred to Children’s Hospital Minnesota in Minneapolis and the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“The doctor told me that he would most likely die that night,” mother Brenda said. “Michael died at 9:30 on Friday evening.
“No words can express the impact of his death on our family,” Brenda continues. She, husband Keith and younger son Anthony who was one month away from his seventh birthday were unable to sleep or eat. “Friday and Saturday were the most difficult days of our lives. Sunday afternoon we were going to the funeral home to start making arrangements and to see Michael for the first time since Friday night.”
Brenda continues, “As we were getting ready to leave our home, I asked St. Thérèse to send me a rose if Michael was in heaven.” But then she directly changed her mind, thinking, “After I said it, I immediately took it back as I did not want to ask God for signs.”
Did the message get through to St. Thérèse anyway?
“As we opened our garage door, one of Michael's friends, the neighbor boy two houses away was standing in our driveway with a single red rose. Matthew gave the rose directly to me. I got in the car and told my husband and son that Michael was in heaven and all would be fine.”
After Michael's death, that first year was difficult for the Longman family. “But we knew it was the cross we were given,” Brenda said. “That red rose from St. Thérèse was the best thing as it was a reminder that Michael was safely home.”
Yet there was more to come for the Longmans. Michael had died Aug. 5 which is the feast day of Our Lady of the Snows, reminds Brenda, and the Basilica of St. Mary Major is built on the site where it snowed in Rome Aug. 5. “Each year at the dedication Mass in Rome a panel above the high altar opens and white rose petals are dropped down during the Gloria. It looks like snow.”
She describes what has gone on the past several years. “We have been in attendance at this Mass for the last six years, and each year one white rose petal floats 30 feet to our son Anthony. And each year we say that it is Michael letting us know that he is with us.”
With our loved ones’ eternal welfare normally on our minds, St. Thérèse realizes the heartache and stress this can cause us, and she’s near when we call upon her like these times we lose those closest to us.
After Margo Philbin’s father Jim died, she naturally had great concern for his soul. She mentions how he had lived a life very far from the Church and the Commandments. “With God's grace, I was able to forgive him and had a good relationship with him the last 15 years of his life,” she explains, emphasizing. “In the last few years of his life, with much encouragement, he went to Confession, praise God, and the scales fell. He realized he had sinned greatly and began to make amends. In hospice he was anointed, again, thanks be to God, and died in the arms of the Church.”
Margo was with her father Jim when he died. Shortly after, she prayed to St Thérèse to help him in whatever way she was able to.
After her father’s burial, when she returned to her own city she went to a friend's house and told her the story of her dad’s death and her prayers to St Thérèse.
“Just as I finished, I looked up and my eyes alighted on a rose in the next room. I just knew it was from the Little Flower and felt incredible gratitude for her accompanying my father.”
St Thérèse accompanies us in a never-ending variety of circumstances. For instance, see how she guided Peter and Ali Falconero home.
Peter was born and raised Catholic, but in his early twenties after having a “born again” experience and meeting his wife Ali who was a devout Protestant Christian, he left the Catholic Church and attended evangelical Protestant churches for several decades.
“About seven or eight years ago, after many years of church hopping,” he said, he decided to have another look back into the Catholic Church.
“I dedicated myself to studying Catholic doctrine for a couple years,” he said. It took time because after being a Protestant for so long, he mentions that many doctrines like those on Mary and purgatory needed to be clarified in his mind and heart.
“When I got to the point that I really felt there was a chance I may return to the Catholic Church,” he continues, he “decided to put to a test one of those doctrines” — praying to saints for their intercession.
He describes how he “had just a few days before planted a small rose bush in my yard. There were no roses on it. At work that day I prayed to St. Thérèse, that if the Catholic Church was the true Church, and if I should return to it, could she let a rose bloom on that bush before I get home from work.”
“I got home from work late that night,” Peter continues. “It was dark and I was afraid to even look because I didn’t want to be disappointed. But there it was, one fully bloomed rose! I knew in my heart it was from her. I came back to the Church and I’m so thrilled I did!”
That wasn’t the end of the story. He goes on, “My wife went through RCIA and also joined the Church, taking as her confirmation name Thérèse. And I am now a catechist for RCIA.
“Thank you St. Thérèse!”
Next in the series we’ll hear some fantastic marriage and family stories.