The first canonized saint of the western hemisphere was St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617). Isabel de Flores y del Oliva was the daughter of Spanish colonists in Peru. Because her family was poor, young Rose helped support the family by growing flowers and doing embroidery needlework. As she grew older her beauty became so great that she was nicknamed "Rose," a name that remains with her to this day. According to legend, a servant had a vision where her face turned into a rose and at her confirmation in 1597 she officially took the name of Rose.
At an early age Rose was attracted by the spirituality and mysticism of St. Catherine of Siena, and wanted to become a nun. She often prayed and fasted in secret, performed daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and took daily communion, but her attempts to imitate her heroine brought only opposition and criticism from family and friends.
As a young woman, her beauty began to attract suitors. To deter these men, Rose sometimes went to what others considered extreme lengths. For instance, because she feared that the admiration of her beautiful face by young men might distract her from serving God, she cropped her hair short and rubbed pepper into her cheeks to produce disfiguring blotches.
Rose’s parents wanted her to marry, and for years tried in vain to arrange this, but Rose refused. Her parents in turn refused to let her enter a convent, but when she turned twenty, they consented to Rose becoming a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. This arrangement allowed Rose to live at home to continue her life of solitude and penance. Rose kept herself cloistered in her room, spending long periods in prayer. It was said she slept only two hours per night so as to have more time for prayer and she quit eating meat altogether, an extreme dietary restriction for that time.
She was also known to wear a heavy silver crown, with spikes that could pierce her flesh to remind her of the Crown of Thorns. At one point, one of the spikes become so lodged in her skull that the crown was only removed with great difficulty.
Before her death, Rose used a room in the family home to care for the elderly, the homeless, and the sick, particularly Indians and slaves. Today St. Rose is considered the originator of social services in Peru. After years of poor health and many temptations, Rose died at the age of thirty-one on August 25, 1617. According to legend, she accurately predicted the date of her death. Her funeral was a major event attended by all the city's authorities with prominent men taking turns carrying her casket.
Pope Clement IX beatified Rose in 1667 and Pope Clement X recognized her as a saint by canonizing her in 1671. St. Rose of Lima is the patroness of the Americas and of its indigenous peoples.
St. Rose of Lima’s feast day is August 23.