Monday 23 April 2012

What I Love About Rose

By John D. O’Brien, S.J.

Those who know me are aware that I have a particular affection for a certain girl. There are many others who are attracted to her as well. She has great personality, has had a fascinating life, and makes me want to be a better person. I thought I’d share a bit about her today – readers, meet Rose Prince.

Rose was born in northern British Columbia, the daughter of Chief Joseph and his wife Agathe of the Carrier Nation, and studied at a residential school at Lejac, near Fraser Lake – about a two-hour drive west of the city of Prince George. I mention this because when I was a Jesuit novice, I hitchhiked there for my pilgrimage. It is silent and rugged country, awesome in its beauty. Bald eagles soar its skies, and mule deer and black bears rummage the grass along the side of the highway in late May.

There were several things that drew me to make that visit. First, I had a sense that Rose was close to God, though in a simple way. Her life was characterized by her presence to others and its simplicity. At  school, Rose was known for her kindness to everybody, her spirit of service and peacemaking. She was devoted to the Mass and would attend daily, even though it wasn't obligatory.

When she was little, Rose had an accident that left her with a painful curvature of the spine, and at age seventeen, she tragically lost her mother to influenza. It was then that she asked to stay at the school during the summer holidays, and again after graduation as staff, remaining there the rest of her life. She tended the sacristy, tutored students, and created remarkable embroidery and artwork that she would give away (sadly, none of her paintings have survived, although some of her embroideries have).

Rose died from tuberculosis at age thirty-four in 1949, and is buried on a hill overlooking the lake alongside a few other students and some of the Oblate Fathers. During an accidental opening of her coffin during the relocation of the cemetery several years later, she appeared completely incorrupt, a sign in the history of the Church of the resurrection. Today the school in Lejac has been torn down, and only the grave site remains, near a small stage for the summer pilgrims who visit each year. Her fame is growing now that she is in heaven.

I like Rose because she loved others; because she was valiant in the face of adversity; because she exuded peace and serenity and gave it to others; because she died young and hidden (in the spirit of St. Thérèse). By her spirit, she shows us a way forward through the mess and brokenness of a tragic chapter in Canadian history. And she is, of course, one of our own. A possible saint from Western Canada? Time will tell, but I sense her intercession already pours down from heaven.

For more information on Rose Prince of the Carrier Nation and the annual pilgrimage to Lejac, the Archdiocese of Prince George hosts this page.

CBC news story from 2008, and a radio episode of The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti on Rose Prince.

The account of Carolyn Linitski who was with Rose when she passed away, and a good overview of her life with pictures.

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