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.
Several stories recounted how St. Thérèse was right there to help when there were difficulties during a pregnancy. Take the experienced of Jeremy and Stephanie Hardin.
During their 13 years of marriage, they had one miscarriage, followed by the birth of three healthy boys. “Over the course of several months, we prayerfully discerned that we were being called to try for another baby,” Stephanie relates. “We truly desired a baby girl, although of course we would've accepted whatever God's plan for us was.”
Shortly after, the Hardins were again expecting, but within a few weeks, Stephanie suffered another miscarriage. “Losing that baby left me feeling very unsure what God wanted for us, and whether or not we were truly being called to have another child,” she said.
Then a friend suggested praying the Little Flower Novena. Along with it, things related to St. Thérèse kept popping up in various places.
“So, out of uncertainty, and desperate for answers, I prayed the novena in a very specific way, which is not my typical style,” Stephanie explains. “I prayed for a sign: that if we were meant to try again and would have a girl, I would receive a pink rose, or a yellow rose for a boy, or a white rose if we weren't meant to have any more children.”
Within five days into the novena, there “fell the anniversary of when my husband and I started dating,” Stephanie recalls. “We typically don't celebrate in any way, and don't exchange cards or gifts. The most we do is acknowledge that ‘Hey, we've been together ‘x’ amount of years!’”
But this time was unexpectedly different. With no idea his wife was praying the novena, and knowing that she generally thought flowers are a waste of money, Jeremy brought home a small bouquet.
“In the center of that bouquet, were two pink roses!” she exclaims.” “After the fact, my husband told me he almost didn't even buy that bouquet because he knows that roses are not my favorite, but the other bunches he considered did not look as nice.”
Both were very grateful and at peace receiving this sign. “Sure enough,” Stephanie reports, “about a month or so later, I got pregnant again. I'm absolutely thrilled to say that our precious baby GIRL, Gianna Marie, is six months old today!”
Double the Sign
Sometimes St. Thérèse works in union with other saints, but she definitely makes her presence known, as she did in Scotland with Rob and Helen Pengilley. In fact, she gave them two signs.
Rob describes one of them. “On the morning of the baptism of our now middle child, Rosie (Róisín), a long-dead rose bush that had sat on our patio in a small pot, leafless and unloved for years — nothing more than a clump of dry twigs — had a single, small but perfect red rose. It only lasted a day, but what a day! After Rosie’s baptism the rose bush returned to its dead-like state... not a leaf or a rose. What a lovely message to receive.”
Why was this so moving to the Pengilleys? Let’s look at the back story.
“One winter’s night it became so cold that the solid-fuel burner in our kitchen wasn’t able to extract smoke through the chimney because the cold air was too dense,” Rob begins. “Instead, the smoke was pushed back into the burner which promptly stopped burning properly. This caused carbon monoxide (CO) gas — the silent killer — to be forced into the house.”
The family ended up in hospital including their two-year-old daughter Niamh. Wife Helen was about five-months pregnant with Rosie.
“Our eldest daughter hadn’t been sleeping well, so my wife had been sleeping in our daughter’s room,” Rob continues. “The CO dose I received in our bedroom, which can be verified through our medical records, was statistically a lethal dose requiring me to be put onto oxygen and to have a chest x-ray.”
Learning Helen was pregnant, the hospital said that the CO would have “concentrated around the placenta, so unborn Rosie would have had a huge dose of poisonous gas that would cause heart, lung and brain damage,” Rob explains. “The hospital said Rosie wouldn’t be able to survive on her own once the umbilical cord had been cut. We were encouraged to consider ending the pregnancy…Naturally, we had no intention of ‘ending the pregnancy.’”
The family wasn’t able to return to their home for about a week after the incident because of the residual CO in the house. It also took about a week for the effects they were suffering to wear off — “at which point the realisation of what had happened, and what we faced, hit us...hard!” Rob said.
In the following months including hospital visits, “We prayed daily to as many of the saints as we could, in particular St Thérèse,” he said. “We prepared ourselves for a difficult birth. We’d spoken with our parish priest and were ready to perform an immediate baptism. He’d also worked with us to ‘storm the gates of heaven with our prayers,’ and had even arranged prayer groups for us.”
And then? “One Sunday afternoon, about an hour after Holy Mass, my wife’s waters broke. She went into our en suite bathroom to get ready for the imminent hospital visit but Rosie decided she wasn’t going to wait. Rosie was born in the bathroom before the ambulance arrived. Thankfully the emergency services talked me through Rosie’s birth over the phone. Rosie was awake at birth but quiet. It wasn’t long before an emergency midwife arrived, and she let me cut the umbilical cord.”
What happened next was uplifting and full for relief because “Rosie put her lungs to good use!” her father said. She was born in May but not discharged from the hospital until September. In the midst of this, remember her name, Rosie (or Róisín, meaning “little rose”).
And today? Right between her older sister Niamh and younger brother Joseph, “Rosie is now 11-years-old, doing well at school and, predictably, chose St. Thérèse as her confirmation saint,” said Rob. “That single rose that lasted only a day brought joyful tears to our eyes.”
St. Thérèse has a sense of humor, too, in the way roses seem to pop up unexpectedly, surprisingly, like what happened to the Brewster family in their town east of Buffalo, New York. Over eight years ago Suellen Brewster was participating in a novena in honor of St. Thérèse at the local Carmelite Monastery in Buffalo. Its chapel happens to be first in the world having St. Thérèse as its titular saint — it was officially dedicated to her on May 17, 1925, the same day she was canonized.
“My prayer intention for the novena,” recalled Suellen, “was simply for peace and holiness for each member of my immediate family: my husband John, my daughter Adele, my son John Paul, and me.”
In the middle of the novena the family went together for a hike along a creek in their town. Suellen remembers the day as being very warm. Which made the next discovery surprising.
“On a rock in the middle of the creek I spotted something red,” she said. “My heart began to race. I thought, ‘Could it be?’ Getting closer my heart raced more as I saw that, yes, it was a red, long stem rose, fresh as could be, in the blazing sun, on a rock in the middle of the creek!”
It was at that point she said she “excitedly told my family of the novena intention and St. Thérèse’s roses.” They were as surprised as she was.
“But our dear Saint was not done yet,” Suellen said. “As we continued our hike, carrying our new treasure, my son spied another red something on another rock up ahead. Sure enough, it was another pristine red rose! In awe, we continued to walk and, as amazing as it sounds, there were two more rocks with two more roses on them — one for each of us that were my novena intention!”
To this day she has no idea how those roses got there, “nor remained so fresh sitting in the sun on each rock. They were not attached to the rocks. Just laid on top. One after another. Not near each other though.” And exactly enough for each member of the family. No more, no less.
While the park is fairly well used, that day there were only a few people around. “We kept hiking along the creek. It became like a treasure hunt!” she remembers vividly. So does the rest of the family. Adele is now 19 and John Paul is 16. “It’s truly one of the fondest memories of our children’s childhood, Suellen affirmed.
In fact, they not only kept the roses, but Suellen emphasizes that “each of us has a special love for St. Thérèse whom I call my Little Mother. We don’t always have peace and we are still on the road to holiness, but we trust that St. Thérèse is still praying for us.”
Answer in Color
Attending Franciscan University as a freshman 27 years ago, Penny Starrs had been dating a guy from her high school since 10th grade. On the one hand, it was not the best of relationships, and on the other both had been struggling with the idea of breaking up due to the long distance between them. He attended college in New England.
“I was also feeling the need to end the relationship as I was re-discovering my childhood faith for the first time,” Penny said, “and certain aspects of our relationship didn't jive with this new found moral compass.”
She recounts how “in the early 1990s, novenas to St. Thérèse were all the rage on our Catholic campus.” Students prayed them to find dates to dances, find their soul-mate, get good test grades, be granted scholarship money, etc. When her roommate heard she was struggling with a hard decision to make for the relationship, she handed Penny a prayer card of St. Thérèse which included the novena. Since Penny had never heard of a novena, her roommate explained how Mary and the Apostles prayed one while waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and how Penny should pray the novena.
“Since I was still new to practicing my faith in a sincere way, but still attached to this guy, I decided to ask St. Thérèse for one of two colors of roses,” Penny explains. “I figured that since red roses were more common, and there was a higher probability of someone giving me one...I would ask for this rose to continue dating (because that was what I really wanted) and just try my best to make the relationship work. I asked St Thérèse to give me a white rose if I was meant to end the relationship because I figured this would be the harder task and I really didn't want to end it anyhow.”
Five days into the novena she was up late studying when her mom called to chat. Penny recalls the conversation. “Things weren't well at home. The mortgage was going up, the van needed work, the balance for my braces was due and my parents were late at making a payment for my tuition.” The talk ended with Penny in tears. She “was feeling miserable for having burdened my parents with crooked teeth and college bills.”
She burst out of her dorm room, “flew down the stairs and ran to the Portiuncula Chapel” where she said she “quickly slid into a back pew and buried my head into my hands as the tears continued to flow.” Before the Blessed Sacrament perpetually exposed, she prayed that “mom and dad would forgive me for all the money I cost them.”
What was St. Thérèse doing all the while? Penny well remembers. “After about 15 minutes, I wiped my eyes and blew my nose to try to regain my composure. It was in that moment that I looked up at the Monstrance. My eyes grew wide as I took into view not one, but SIX dozen bouquets of white roses adorning the altar.”
“‘White Roses!’ I screamed in my mind. ‘White roses!’ I said again in a whisper.”
What eventually happened?
With great joy Penny reports, “On Saturday, October 5th, I celebrated 23 years of marriage with the incredible man that I met after that break up. So thank you, St. Thérèse, for sending a shower of ‘unwanted’ roses to this soul!”