Rose Prince Pilgrimage

Check out this feature story in the Vancouver Sun- 150 Canada

Rose Prince, Saint to Many

Lejac – Rose Prince where is it?

Lejac is situated along the highway, a two-hour drive west of Prince George, between Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake. Every summer on the second weekend of July a three-day pilgrimage is held on the grounds where the Lejac Indian Residential School once stood.

In 1990, responding to the desire of former Lejac Residential School students for a reunion, Father Jules Goulet, OMI, former pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Fraser Lake, along with a local elder and childhood friend of Rose Prince, initiated the first pilgrimage. After this very humble beginning when 20 people gathered, awareness of the pilgrimage and the life of Rose Prince grew. It gradually gained momentum with greater collaboration between the First Nations people and others who have built on a common vision and worship. Today people come from near and far to celebrate, pray and honor the memory of Rose Prince.

 

rose-princeRose Prince:
Reflecting on an extraordinarily ordinary life

 Perhaps at times the figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided “translations” on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us.

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Highway 16 starts in Winnipeg and reaches British Columbia after crossing the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains. Then, covering another 1000 km, it runs towards its goal, Prince Rupert, a small harbor on the north-west coast of the Pacific Ocean. It crosses Northern British Columbia, a region of forests, lakes, and hills which look down on infinitely long rivers, from sandy or gravel bluffs, or steep cliffs. Here and there, large meadows, corn or canola fields break the dark expense of the spruce and pine forest. A few small towns, some villages, isolated farms spread along the road or observe it from a distance.

To read Marie Flouriot’s full article of April 11, 2016 click here

 

Pilgrimage

For pilgrims participating in the pilgrimage each summer it is a truly spiritual experience. In 2004, approximately 1200 people came to Lejac – from nearby communities of Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof, Burns Lake, Prince George, Fort Ware, Kitimat, Terrace, and from distant places such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Vancouver.

Many pilgrims say they experience God’s healing presence and power in their lives during the pilgrimage as they pray for real-life issues, hurts and joys. The example of Rose Prince is like a compass, gently guiding the way by her life spent simply with concern for others and a deep love for God.

Several years ago Nick Loza, a miner from the Fraser Lake area, experienced a miraculous healing when Father Goulet anointed and prayed over him through the intercession of Rose Prince. After two operations for a broken disc in his back the neurologist had given up hope of further recovery. Though he did not know Rose Prince when she was alive, Nick and his wife attended the pilgrimage in recognition of the healing he received.

Community, prayer and healing

The Lejac pilgrimage is a community building time of prayer and celebration when old friends meet and new friends are made. It is a time for singing and sharing and, for many, an opportunity to learn about Rose Prince, to connect with the church and to experience healing and peace.

Some who participate reunite with old schoolmates from the Lejac Residential School. It can become a time of intense spiritual experiences and they feel drawn to return each year to pray at this historical site. Lejac provides a warm and encouraging atmosphere and an opportunity for cultural exchange. Many participants express a great affinity with the First Nations people when they share faith and prayer together. The burning of the sweet grass, the holy water; the old traditions when joined with modern ones make for a powerful combination. A significant dimension is added when ancient customs are recognized and celebrated.

A celebration of faith

In an interview following the 2004 pilgrimage Bishop Gerald Wiesner noted that Rose Prince “was a rather ordinary person”. But, at the same time he said, “she lived her human life fully and her faith life deeply in a rather extraordinary way. That is probably the greatest appeal she has.”

He described the pilgrimage as “a really good opportunity for First Nations people to come together and celebrate their faith.”

“We have a lot of controversy about the residential schools but Rose Prince was someone who spent almost her entire life in a residential school and was respected then and now as someone who excelled in Christian virtue throughout her life.”

“One way we can support the First Nations people,” he said, “is to take part in this pilgrimage and to see it as part of our diocesan celebrations and their contribution to the diocese.”

Bishop Gerry credits the present pastor in Fraser Lake, Father Vincent James, OMI, with the continued success of the pilgrimage. “He has worked hard at this and he is able to get people to rally in support of it.” Sister Kateri Michell, a Mohawk and Sister of St. Anne, was the guest speaker at the 2004 pilgrimage. This was her second visit to Lejac and the message she brought to her own people was well received.

To learn more about Rose Prince or for information about the annual pilgrimage contact:

Rev. Vincent James, OMI
St. Andrew’s Parish
Box 580
Fraser Lake, BC V0J 1S0
Phone: (250) 699-6593

Rose Prince of the Carrier Nation

There are Saints who were unknown by the world. Their holiness was hidden from our eyes and known only to heaven. They drew no attention to themselves, but lived quiet and gentle lives of prayer and service to others.

Yet sometimes God in His mercy reveals a glimpse of holiness in our midst. Such was the life of Rose Prince of the Carrier Nation in central British Columbia. 

An Astonishing Discovery

In 1951 a few graves that were west of the Lejac Indian Residential School had to be relocated to a larger cemetery nearby. During the transfer, the casket of a young woman named Rose Prince broke open. She had been buried two years earlier.

The workers were amazed to find both Rose’s body and clothing perfectly preserved. Other bodies were examined. All of them, some buried after Rose, were found to be decaying. Witnesses were called, including some Sisters. They found her body in perfect condition. She seemed transparent and looked as if she were sleeping. There was “just a tiny bit of a smile on her face.” A bouquet of withered flowers was on her chest.

The Sign of Incorruption

Among Catholics such bodily incorruption has a very special meaning. The Church accepts it as possibly a sign from God witnessing to a life of holiness. It reflects the victory of Christ over death, expressed in the words of Scripture: “You will not allow your holy one to experience decay.” (Acts 13:35)

Over the centuries, the bodies of some holy people have remained intact long after their death. Over 140 years after the death of St. Francis Xavier, examiners found that his body had remained fresh and unchanged. He seemed only to be sleeping. In our own time, the bodies of St. Bernadette of Lourdes and St. Charbel of Lebanon have been discovered in this state.

About two hundred such cases are known. Unlike a mummy, these bodies remain intact, fresh and pliable. They have no odour except a fragrance like that of flowers. This state lasts sometimes only a few years and other times much longer.

The Rose of the Carrier

Rose Prince was born in 1915 at Fort St. James, the third of nine children born to Jean-Marie and Agathe Prince. Both parents were devout Catholics.

Rose’s father, Jean-Marie, was descended from a long line of chiefs and leading men among the Carrier Nation in central British Columbia. At times he led the prayers and singing in church and also helped to look after the building. People called him “the Church Chief.”

Agathe, Rose’s mother, was raised by the Sisters of the Child Jesus in Williams Lake. Her own mother had died when she was very young. Agathe was known to be kindly, gentle and a woman of strong faith.

Jean-Marie and Agathe went to school together in Williams Lake. They fell in love, were married and returned to live in Fort St. James. Their children first attended the little school in Stuart Lake. Then in 1922 the government built a large new school at Lejac and Rose was sent there.

In Residential School

Lejac Indian Residential School was once situated on a hillside overlooking Fraser Lake. Today all traces of it have been removed and the grounds around the graveyard, which remains, are used for the annual pilgrimage.

It is hard to say what may have been on Rose’s mind as she first gazed upon this building for the first time. Did she guess that it would be her home for the rest of her life? Perhaps, for she applied herself to learning and became an outstanding student.

Sr. Bridie Dollard, who taught Rose for three years, described her as “a hard worker and a brilliant student, kind, lovely, gentle and compassionate.” Some of her fellow students remember her as a happy child with a natural sense of   dignity. Her goodness and understanding attitude drew other children to her.

One childhood friend says: “Sometimes I would feel resentment towards the Sister or the other girls, or someone who said something to me, and she would talk to me about it and say to pray for the person instead of feeling resentment. She was full of advice like that.” To the students and Sisters she was a friendly but quiet girl. She was not one to complain or say anything negative.

In Patient Endurance

In her life Rose had to endure trials and sorrows. As she grew, she developed curvature of the spine. Sister Bridie recalls “She had a deformity on her back and was very self-conscious about it.” This abnormality caused her great difficulty, yet all those who gave testimony about her agree that never once was she heard to complain.

At the age of seventeen, she lost her mother whom she loved dearly, to influenza. Soon after, she also lost her two younger sisters. This must have been very hard for her. After that, she never wanted to go home in the summer holidays. Her brothers and sisters went home each summer, but she chose to stay at the convent.

A Flower Blossoms

Rose also began to develop a deep life of prayer and seemed to have an abiding sense of the love and presence of Jesus. An indication of this comes from her cousin Celena John, who relates “Rose lived only for the glory of God.” She didn’t live for anything else. One time I was curious, so I asked her why it was that she never goes home with her brothers and sisters. She kept silently going on with her work, then finally she looked up, smiled and said, ‘I’ve got my parents in here.’ I didn’t understand what she meant. I thought she meant the sisters.”

“Then I finally asked, ‘Who are they?’ She answered, “our Blessed Mother and her son Jesus, they are my parents. I feel so close to them here, I just don’t want to go out and I have no intention of going anywhere.’ That is what she told me.”

Her Adult Life

After graduation, Rose asked to stay at the school. Because she was loved and respected, she was accepted as part of the staff. To a friend she confided that it was the best choice for her. Here she could be herself, enjoy quiet and privacy and practice her faith.

Her spiritual life continued to bloom. She had a special devotion to the Eucharist. In spite of the difficulty that her deformity caused her when kneeling, she spent hours in prayer in the chapel. As an adult, religious practices were optional, yet Rose faithfully received Jesus in Holy Communion at daily Mass.

She did many jobs at the school. Rose took on secretarial work, mending, cleaning, embroidering and sewing. Books were a favourite pastime and she often helped the younger children in learning to read. No one ever heard a cross word from her and she did her tasks with great cheerfulness.

Rose loved to sing and always sang or hummed while she was doing her chores. Her fingers were always busy with bead work or crocheting. She was a talented artist and often gave away small paintings as gifts. A few of her pieces of religious art or paintings have survived.

A Flight of Angels

Rose contracted tuberculosis and by 1949 grew so weak that she was eventually confined to bed. In August of that year, she told Sr. Francis, who would be going off on holiday, that she would never see her again. Admitted to the hospital on August 19th, she quietly passed away that evening while Mass was being offered for her.

The Sisters prepared her body for burial. In death as in life, her body lay awkward because of its deformity. They put a pillow under her head and put her body in the right position because she was so crippled. Sr. Rose later said that she looked like an angel lying in her coffin. Rose was buried on her 34th birthday. Hers was an ordinary life made rich by faithfulness to the sacraments, and by prayer.

Acknowledging a Favor

If you have received a favor through the intercession of Rose Prince, please share it with us!

By Email: bishop@pgdiocese.bc.ca

By Mail:

Office of the Bishop
6500 Southridge Avenue
Prince George, BC V2N 5P9

Please describe the prayer request you entrusted to her and the favors received. Thank you!