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.
Anyone can pray for St. Thérèse’s help. People shouldn’t forget that even a child can pray the novena to St. Thérèse. After all, Thérèse understood childhood in depth, not only being one herself but later reflecting very thoughtfully on it in Story of a Soul.
Elizabeth Laux shares her how growing up she was the youngest of four. “I desperately wanted a younger sibling,” she said. Yet it looked like her request would not be fulfilled. She explains, “My mom had many miscarriages after I was born and was not able to carry a baby full-term.”
But young Elizabeth would not be dissuaded and discouraged. “My desire to have a younger sibling was so strong that I prayed every day, asking for this gift,” she said. She was even “brought to tears at the thought of never being an older sister.”
Then when she was about nine years old, she finally decided to pray a novena to St. Thérèse.
Elizabeth vividly recalls what occurred on the ninth day. “As I was coming downstairs into the kitchen,” she said, “I noticed that there was a singular rose that had blossomed right outside our kitchen window. The rose bush was blooming at an unexpected time, and the only blossomed rose was this one perfectly positioned to peek through the window. St. Thérèse had heard my prayer.”
The answer? “Two years later my little brother Max came, adopted all the way from Russia. My heart was full!”
Thérèse to the Rescue
Faith Hakesley became pregnant with her husband Alex’s and her first child in 2010. “Call it mother’s intuition but I just knew we were having a boy and we were, indeed, blessed with a beautiful baby boy,” she said. “We named him Matthew Alexander, a name near and dear to our hearts.”
“Matthew” was after her oldest brother “who had died unexpectedly several years before due to a heart condition,” and “Alexander” was after her husband who was her “brother's best friend.”
In 2012, they prayed to conceive again. Faith also prayed a novena asking for the intercession of her favorite saint, St. Thérèse, the Little Flower.
Her devotion to St. Thérèse began when she read Story of Soul as a young girl. “Thérèse interceded for me many times especially when, at the age of 15, I was raped by a Catholic priest.” A year later when her brother Matthew died, she felt she could relate to Thérèse in many ways, especially to her “dark night of the soul.” Faith adds, “She had a great love of priests and, through her intercession, I was able to forgive my rapist and continue to pray for priests in a special way.”
As she prayed the Novena Rose prayer, Faith promised, “If we were to conceive and if the child was a girl, I would do my best to ensure that she be named Theresa Rose. My husband, Alex, knew nothing about my novena or my promise to Thérèse but, at the end of the novena, Alex surprised me with some roses. This was before my pregnancy was confirmed, and I took it as a sign that I was with child and that, this time, it was a little girl.”
When the ultrasound confirmed they were, indeed, having a little girl, they began talking about names.
“I was already imagining a bouncy, curly-haired little Theresa Rose,” Faith said. “My husband, on the other hand, wasn't so sure. After all, he hadn't received any such sign and he wanted to feel sure about our child's name. We had chosen our son's name so easily and Alex wanted to feel as sure and excited about our daughter's name as he had felt about our son's. He said he would pray and ask for a sign, and I promised to pray that St. Thérèse would provide him with such a sign.”
Others names started entering as possibilities, the top three of which got posted on a whiteboard in their kitchen. But to Faith, “Our baby was already Theresa Rose.”
Several months into her pregnancy, when Alex was raking the lawn, a woman stopped to ask if he would put up an election sign. As they talked and shared their Catholic faith, he mentioned that he and Faith were expecting, but didn’t say whether a boy or girl, or anything about names.
Later that day, back home after running errands, they were surprised to find a small package in the mailbox. Faith picks up the story.
“Alex opened it to reveal a card with a picture of beautiful roses on the front, a DVD — the Leonardo Defilippis movie, Thérèse — and a St. Thérèse prayer card.”
“Wow. That was more or less all I could say as I read the letter to my open-mouthed husband.” In it the kind woman thanked Alex for the conversation and promised to pray for them, Faith particularly. She wrote she felt compelled to share her favorite saint with them, not having any idea of Faith’s “already-existing devotion to St. Thérèse nor was she aware of the fact that Alex had been praying for a direct sign from the Little Flower.”
“I'll never forget the look on Alex's face. He was in shock,” Faith said. “He walked straight to the whiteboard, crossed off two names, and circled ‘Theresa Rose.’”
“St. Thérèse not only sent me roses (flowers) in answer to my novena,” she happily explains, “but she sent my family and me our own Theresa Rose in the form of our beautiful daughter who was born on February 8, 2013.”
Faith concludes, “St. Thérèse has been with me throughout the many trials and the many joys of my life, and she never ceases to remind me of God's love and grace and that great things can be accomplished through trust in God and by bringing our needs to Him in prayer.”
Thérèse Smooths Roadblocks
St. Thérèse was only a young teen but didn’t give up when she wanted to enter Carmel even though at that time she was told she could not. Naturally, she also has a place in her heart for the young who find what appear to be high roadblocks on their life’s journey.
Last year was Kira Jenkins senior year in high school. That presented a dilemma.
“I had no direction for where or what I wanted to do after graduation,” she said. “I was so sure I was not going to college, other than maybe community college, that I didn't even take the SAT or ACT tests.”
At the time, her brother Nik was a student at Ave Maria University in Florida and really insistent that she visit him. She did, in January, “and for the first time I could see myself attending college,” Kira said, “and between everything from the people to the classes I just felt called to be at Ave Maria in particular.”
Once she returned home she realized how much she'd have to do in a few short months compared to what other students had done in preparation during the past two years of high school.
“I immediately started a novena to St. Thérèse and asked her to send a white rose if I was meant to go,” Kira explained. “Well, time passed, and I completed the novena and managed to get almost everything done that I needed to in those few months, but I still hadn't received a rose.”
The last step I had to take care of and complete was finding the funds for tuition. On the phone with the school’s financial aid office, Kira listened as the person there said no more scholarships were available. She would need one to afford the tuition.
Kira noted that this whole time with all the difficulties she had to confront and was still facing, she was constantly questioning her decision to apply for college, whether this was what God wanted her to do. As the situation continued to weigh heavily on her, and she started losing hope, Kira went with her mother Vikki to their church's adoration chapel to pray for acceptance of God's will, whatever it might be.
“That was where I found my single white rose, right where I sat in the front pew,” Kira said. “It was a very big surprise. It was a fresh white rose just lying on the seat.” No one else was sitting there and “no one else really seemed to take notice of the rose.”
Her immediate reaction? “At first I was a little in shock and thought it couldn’t possibly be for me,” she said. “I left it next to me while I prayed, in case someone claimed it. After a while though, it was clear no one was going to, and I knew it was my rose.”
The rose from St. Thérèse was great reassurance. As Kira puts it, “I knew then that it would all work out. Sure enough, the next day the financial aid called me back to explain that there was a mistake, and I would be receiving the scholarship.”
Kira said, “I still can't believe I'm here, and I still have the rose as a reminder of why I'm here. Without it I'm sure I would still be questioning my decision.”
She offers this counsel to others. “Sometimes it's good to have the reminder, too, that she won't always send us our rose right away, and sometimes it takes time, even if it's just a few months.”
The Saint Reassures
When Father John-Mary Bowlin at St. Jude Church in Gun Barrel City, Texas, was a seminarian at a summer assignment at Our Lady of Victory in Paris, Texas, he received word that Ryan Hinojosa had been in a fatal car accident. “His older brother was my closest friend at the time and I had spent time mentoring Ryan,” Father Bowlin explains. “He had been a Scout in our Troop and I had sworn him in when he enlisted in the Army. He served in Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood. One night, he was driving down to see his family in San Antonio when an on-coming vehicle swerved into his lane and hit him head-on.”
Father Bowlin continues, “This was the first death of someone close to me and I was upset. I also knew that Ryan had struggled with sin (‘struggled’ being the operative word) and I was in doubt as to his spiritual state when he died. I told St. Thérèse that, while I normally didn’t do this kind of thing, I needed to know if he was alright.” He asked for a rose.
The day after hearing about Ryan’s death, Father Bowlin was at a Requiem Mass, standing with other servers near the hearse. As the casket was being loaded, he said, “A single rose fell off the flower arrangement at my feet. I took that rose down to San Antonio for Ryan’s funeral and presented it to his mother, telling her the story of why and how I got it. She was quite moved and appreciative. As am I.”
“While I continue to pray for Ryan at every Mass and offer the Holy Sacrifice for him minimally on the anniversary of his death, I am greatly consoled by this token from Heaven.”
Comfort Again and Again
About three years ago Jennifer Colsch’s 16-year-old special needs son Jonathan was admitted to the hospital with aspiration pneumonia. Right after he was admitted she began praying the novena to St. Thérèse and asked friends and family to pray as well.
“A day or so after that,” Jennifer said, “I was walking into the hospital early one morning to exchange places with my husband Peter who stayed with him through the night, feeling tired and sad and anxious about Jonathan, when I smelled the unmistakable scent of roses. It's a parking lot with no rose bush in sight. The scent was strong enough that I stopped and looked around.”
She noticed an older couple walking toward the doors too and figured it was probably her perfume. Inside, as the elevator doors were about to close, the same older couple got in with her. The woman was definitely wearing strong perfume, but it did not smell anything like roses, Jennifer said. “I knew then that God was with us, and sweet St. Thérèse was praying for us. I've often been a skeptic about these things, not because I don't believe they happen, but because it's hard to believe they would happen in my life.”
But to erase her doubts that this was a gift from God and this beautiful saint really was praying for them, more happened.
Jennifer explains, “On the day Jonathan died, we were praying beside him. My husband leaned over to kiss him and he smelled roses.
“And at Jonathan's visitation, a friend who I hadn't seen in quite a while, came forward with a vase that had the most beautiful roses in it. Any one of these things might have gone unnoticed, but together the message was clear — she was with us, letting us know that God hears our prayers, and the prayers of His beloved saints, who help us through the darkest times.”
Jennifer adds something else happened a couple of weeks after Jonathan died and she and Peter went to a Catholic bookstore in Nashville. “In a small corner on the third floor I found a picture of St. Thérèse offering rose petals to the child Jesus as Mary and Joseph look on. I've never seen anything like it. It hangs in my living room, a reminder that I'm not alone in my sorrow. It also reminds me that Jonathan is with all the saints in heaven, and with a God that loves us so much that He makes sure to send us these little love notes.”