St. John, St. Rose, and other JP Streets Named for Saints

The establishment of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society in 1987 provided our area with a means of sometimes getting local questions about our past conveniently answered. An inquiry this summer focused attention on the several streets in Jamaica Plain that are named after saints: John, Joseph, Mark, Peter, and Rose.

The streets, named for Jesus’ disciples Peter and John, got their names from the fact that they once marked the locations of Episcopal churches in Jamaica Plain: St. Peter Church has disbanded, while St. John’s Church moved to Sumner Hill.

Parishioners leave Saint Thomas Aquinas Church after Sunday mass during World War II. The church was built in 1873 at the corner of South and Saint Joseph Streets and was designed by architect Patrick J. Keeley. The sign on the front lawn lists parishioners serving in the armed forces during the war. Photograph from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The remaining three streets (Joseph, Mark, and Rose) are all off South Street in an area known before the Civil War as “Irish Village.” Here the Roman Catholic diocese of Boston established its first church in Jamaica Plain and named it for the great medieval teacher of the Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas. The three streets were laid out in the 1880’s with the Irish still there. Not surprisingly these sainted street names have an increasingly Catholic touch.

Mark was certainly biblical as the author of the Second Gospel and a student of St. Peter. Joseph of Christmastide fame was a saint only in the Catholic Church to some l9th century Christians.

That certainly was the case for St. Rose, whose identity forced the Jamaica Plain Historical Society’s inquiry into sainted-named streets. As will be seen, whoever chose the name (probably an early pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas) chose very wisely with a prophetic eye to today’s Jamaica Plain.

Not only is Rose a woman, but she is also the first American-born person given sainthood by the Catholic Church and she is the patron saint of Latin America and the former American Commonwealth of the Philippines. Unlike our other saints who have given their names to Jamaica Plain streets, St. Rose of Lima is a relatively modern woman who is well known in the documentary record. She is not some stained-glass attitude or the imagination of some artist.

This female saint of the New World, born on April 20, 1586, began life as Isabel de Flores. She was the daughter of a pioneering conquistador, who had come from Puerto Rico to Peru to try his luck in a further outpost of Spain’s empire in the Americas.

She acquired the nickname of Rose as the result of her fine complexion, which an Indian nurse remarked on during her comfortable upbringing. During her teens she adapted her name to that of the Virgin to become Rose de Santa Maria.

Like the famous Spanish bishop, Bartoleme de las Casas, Rose was horrified at Spanish greed and cruelty to America’s native peoples. Early on she had assumed a religious stance and desired to enter the Catholic Church despite the wishes of her parents, who foresaw a comfortable life for her as the wife of a rich conquistador. After the family fortunes took a dip when a mining venture failed, they all knew poverty and Rose pitched in gladly.

Fortune smiled on the Flores later, but the lessons learned persuaded them to allow their daughter at age 20 to join the Dominican Order. Her vow of virginity fulfilled, she took the mystical Italian saint of the 14th century, Catherine of Siena, as her model. Thus Rose lived as a hermit in a small building in the family garden, which also did service for the poor and elderly of Lima, both Spanish and native.

So Rose became the first social worker in Peru, if not in the New World. Given the widespread sin and corruption in her world, she also developed a keen mystical side in prayer and penance, which included the toning down of her fine complexion with pepper and lime, and the wearing of a symbolic small silver circlet of thorns.

These physical and psychological activities quickly brought her to the attention of the Spanish Inquisition, which worked on religious aberrations in Old Spain as well as New Spain. A medical/religious commission validated Rose’s deeds as “supernatural impulses of grace.” Her fame was capped by her death on August 24, 1617, at age 31; on the very day on which she had prophesied that she would die.

A vast funeral was held in Lima, where she was buried in the churchyard of St. Dominic’s Cathedral-later to be moved into a crypt under the main altar.

Of her it is said that her mode of life and her ascetic practices are suitable only for those whom God calls to them.

Rose’s gender, fame and location soon placed her on the ladder to sainthood. Pope Clement X, only a half century after her death, beatified her in 1668. Canonization followed three years later by the same Pope with full documentation of her works and ways. Her feast day occurs at summer’s end on October 30. Basically a woman of New Spain, she was proclaimed patron of the domains of South America and the West Indies. She is also the special patroness of Peru, along with the Philippine Islands.

Her extraordinary life has lent itself to three novels: Capes’ “Flower of the New World” (1899), Mynd’s “Rose of America” (1947), and Keyes’ “The Rose and the Lily” (1971.) On the 300th anniversary of her canonization Peru issued a multicolored commemorative postage stamp in her honor for its special patron, the first native-born saint of the Americas.

Sources: New Catholic Encyclopedia; Butler, “Lives of the Saints.”

Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright, Gazette Publications, Inc.