I read about a little girl, Rose her name. She was in her early teens. Her mother had died and Rose had taken her mother’s place in looking after the younger children, including the baby, Michael, just one year old. Her father desperately sought part-time work to try to earn enough for the family to cope.
The baby became ill. The hospital did what it could and advised it was better he came home and be nursed there – to save Rose a difficult journey to visit the hospital. It was an understanding decision.
Rose was now mother, nurse, cook, cleaner, shopper, and still only fourteen. Michael began to recover, wonderfully, in her loving care and the doctors were pleased. She carried on her sisterly nursing, happy for her baby brother. Suddenly, she was ill. She had caught something from the baby, it seemed. She was too weak to fight for herself and she died a short while later.
Earlier that week we had celebrated St Rose of Lima, the first canonised saint of South America. When her father’s small business collapsed, Rose (her actual name was Isabella: she was called “Rose” as a nickname because she was so pretty) promised her parents she would look after them. She earned money by her embroidery work and cultivated the garden for vegetables. She coped, they coped. People noticed and loved her. When she died at the age of thirty-one the whole of Lima wanted to be at her funeral, carry her coffin, honour their saint who had lived to look after her parents.
This little teenage Rose was like the saint. How many Roses have we in our schools today, responsible for the family and yet still so young? I taught a boy, slow learner but willing to try. I encouraged him without pressure. Suddenly he stopped trying. I tried to encourage, he did not respond. Then, for his sake, I told him off. He looked and listened but said nothing. He left the classroom and I carried on marking books and beginning plans for the next day’s lessons.
The headmaster came in, a really good man. “I have to tell you about ….”, he said (the boy I’d just told off). “A few weeks ago his father walked out on the family, leaving the mother and five children. He is the eldest. The two youngest don’t yet go to school, so the mother is at home with them during the day and when he goes home from school his mother goes to work, leaving him to make the tea and look after the younger four until bedtime. He’s doing his best to come to school. If his work is not always done, now you know why.”
You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you. Rose and that boy are with us today. What are we going to do? Obvious. We tell them we have seen and understood their struggle. We are going to make certain we shall help and support them. We promise to treat them, to care for them. There will be extra money for them – to say thank you, perhaps to help with the family shopping, but it has to be for them first for being so good in looking after the family. Trust me. I’ve begun to make contacts. Support is already there. It will always be needed because there will always be need of financial support. We shall dedicate the work to St Rose of Lima.
I shall not write of this again except to say, in the parish newsletter or from the altar: “St Rose of Lima needs our help”. If the seed has been planted in your heart you will hear. The charity will grow, God will guide us and the children will be blessed. There must be no sense of burden – only the joy of helping when we can.
God bless us in all the good we try to do,
(5th September 2021)
Update: 5th November 2021
A short while ago I told you about Rosie, a fourteen-year-old girl who took on the role of “mother” to the younger children when her mother died, especially in nursing her baby brother. She nursed him back to health, encouraged and guided by a supportive hospital team, but exhausted herself and she died.
I read about her after the papers were full of discussion about grades at GCSE and A level, teacher assessment, university entrance, etc. Rosie, I thought, would never have been involved in grades and exam pressure, her education badly limited by family needs. How many children are in that position? Missing out on schooling, little chance of any qualifications, chances of employment limited. What could be done for girls and boys like her?
Tell them we care for them and for what they do for their families. “Who cares for the carers?” is a good slogan that reminds us caring can be a lonely and a heavy duty. What could we do for youngsters like Rosie?
That week we had celebrated St Rose of Lima (23rd August) who dedicated herself to looking after her parents when their little business failed, and by her needlework and vegetable garden earned an income to support them. She died, worn out at 31, and the whole of Lima wanted to honour their saint – the first canonized saint of South America. One of her friends was St Martin de Porres, a brother at the friary, renowned for his gentle and caring manner to all who came for help, spiritual and practical.
We named our charity after St Rose and would contact the schools about the best way to offer our support. People have been generous and we have built up a reserve. Now we start. It is not a supplement to family income – social services see to that – but our saying to the youngsters “You are doing so much for your home and family. Thank you. Here is a gift to use as you like – to treat yourself or someone else.” Our Christmas gift is the beginning and it will probably be a gift repeated at the end of each term, Easter and summer holidays.
“Rose” is on the agenda for a meeting of the headteachers of our St Thomas Aquinas Academy this coming week. There are 22 schools (4 senior, 18 junior) in the academy and St Joseph’s parish could not hope to support them all – but the idea will be shared. Our parish will start locally. We may change the name to ‘(St) Rose and (St) Martin of Lima’ or simply ‘The Lima Gift’ and shall pray for help and guidance. Good seed produces good fruit. We hope we are planting good seed. Please pray and feel invited to be involved.