Let the Roses Fall
Few modern-day saints are as well known — or as widely beloved — as the “Little Flower,” otherwise known as St. Therese of Lisieux.
Which makes it all the more ironic that, at the time of her death in 1897 at the age of 24, she was virtually unknown to the world outside of her Carmelite convent.
When her writings began to circulate, however, people all over the world became familiar with her “Little Way” of achieving holiness by offering small sacrifices in the humdrum of daily life instead of setting out to perform great deeds.
Therese's simple spirituality appealed to many Catholics who were striving for holiness through ordinary living, and her fame grew. In 1925 she was canonized and, in 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church.
The Church celebrates her feast day Oct. 1.
Before her death, St. Therese promised the following: “My mission — to make God loved — will begin after my death. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”
A Convert's Account
Leslie Suppan of Ottawa, Ill., firmly believes that she has been one of the many beneficiaries of St. Therese's “shower of roses.”
As a young college student years ago, Suppan longed for a greater sense of purpose in her life. Having no real formation of faith, she experimented a bit with New Age spirituality and the pagan religion of Wicca. These, however, offered her no real satisfaction.
“Wicca is an arrogant and self-centered religion that stresses bending and shaping the universe and everyone around you to get all of the things you want, material and spiritual,” she explains. “To be honest, I could never take it that seriously. It all seemed rather silly and juvenile, and as I got more involved I began to see the emptiness of it all.”
It was at this critical point of disillusionment that a friend lent her a copy of a Catholic magazine with an article about St. Therese of Lisieux. Suppan was immediately attracted by the young saint's simple path to happiness.
“It was beginning to appear to me that I would not be able to do all of the exciting things that I wanted with my life,” recalls Suppan. “I felt like, if I was to find any happiness, I would have to accept my life as it was and find joy in that. And there was St. Therese, showing me the way.”
This initial interest led Suppan to research the Catholic faith and what she learned inspired her to join the Church.
This meant a radical change in lifestyle and the abandonment of many friends.
Finding herself lonely with her newfound religion, Suppan decided to pray a novena to her favorite saint, asking for help in finding a good Catholic husband. On the last day of the novena, a friend brought her an unexpected gift of a rose — which Suppan saw as a sign that her prayers to St. Therese had been heard.
“[My friend] said she didn't know why but she saw the rose in the grocery store and had the urge to buy it for me,” says Suppan. “I was so thrilled because I had the feeling deep inside that something wonderful was on the verge of happening to me.”
That “something wonderful” turned out to be meeting the Catholic man who would become her husband. The two have now been married for 10 years.
Apparently, St. Therese can be persuaded to answer even the prayers of a skeptic. When she first read the life story of St. Therese, Salvatrice Murphy of Silver Spring, Md., had little admiration for the saint.
“Being the oldest of 11 children myself, I felt it was her sisters who were saints, thank you very much,” she explains. “But then I went on a Carmelite retreat that was centered on the Little Flower. In the end I certainly felt more kindly toward her, but still somewhat cynical.”
Murphy didn't hold back from expressing that cynicism in prayer, either. At the end of the retreat, she decided to pray to St. Therese about her sister's upcoming wedding. The groom's sister did not approve of the marriage and had declared that under no circumstances would she attend the wedding. Her bitterness was causing Murphy's sister a great deal of heartache and the situation looked hopeless.
“Just before I left the retreat house I made a last visit to the chapel. There I said quietly, but aloud, ‘Okay, Therese, if you're so great, get [the sister] to that wedding.’ I left there a little amazed at my own audacity,” she recalls.
To everyone's astonishment, less than a week later, the sister of the groom did attend the wedding and — even more miraculously — all family members were reconciled.
“I no longer underestimate Therese,” says Murphy, who now holds the saint in high esteem. “She has certainly demonstrated her intercessory power.”
Praying in Color
“I love that little saint!” says Janice Detherage of Louisville, Ky., a Catholic wife and mother who has always had a special devotion to St. Therese.
She relates the story of one particularly memorable novena she prayed to St. Therese several years ago. At the time, her autistic daughter was eligible for a program that was extremely difficult to get into, and Detherage held out hope that St. Therese might pull some strings to get her daughter admitted.
“Person after person told me that I was wasting my time,” she says. “But I forged ahead and decided to do a novena to St. Therese asking her for her very powerful intercessory prayers.”
The prayer she used was printed on a holy card that featured a picture of Therese holding a bouquet of roses. When Detherage studied the picture, she noticed that one of the roses was a most unusual color:
“It wasn't quite pink and it wasn't quite peach,” she explains. “I had never seen roses that color. Then I remembered different stories about people who had had glimpses of heaven and how they said the colors in heaven are not like the colors here on earth. That's it, I thought. St. Therese was holding one of her ‘heavenly’ roses.”
On the sixth day of the novena, Detherage's husband, who had no idea she was praying the novena, brought her roses as a surprise gift.
“Before I could say a word he said, ‘I want you to look at the color of these roses. I have never seen a color like this before. They are so pretty.’ Well, you guessed it. They were the color of the one I had admired on the prayer card.”
With renewed confidence, Detherage continued to pray. In the end, her daughter was admitted to the “impossible” program.
“St. Therese's prayers are so very powerful before the throne of God,” she says. “We are so blessed in our Catholic Church to call on the intercessory prayers of the saints in heaven.”
Danielle Bean writes from Belknap, New Hampshire.