By Chris Miller
Caroline Linitski stayed with Rose Prince on her deathbed 61 years ago, unaware that she would bear witness to a supernatural occurrence.
It was only upon hearing a CBC Radio program last year that Linitski became aware of the religious devotion to Prince that, for the past 20 years, has culminated in an annual pilgrimage.
It was the spark that led the Edmonton woman to learn more about the prayerful, unassuming young woman and to attend this year’s pilgrimage July 9-11 in Lejac, B.C.
Prince, an aboriginal Dakelh woman, was born the third of nine children in Fort St. James, B.C., in 1915. At age 6 she went to Lejac Residential School. She was a child of deep faith and outstanding love for God. When her schooling was complete, she chose to work at the school, completing chores such as mending, cleaning, embroidering, and sewing.
Prince always sang, celebrating life. She was heard humming and singing as she went about her chores or worked on various artistic projects. Revered for her gentle and devout qualities, she worked at the school until her death in 1949 at St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof, B.C.
At that time Linitski, now 88 and living in Edmonton, was a Sister of Providence working at the hospital. She worked there from 1947 to 1959. When Prince came in she was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis.
“I remember her as patient, gentle, pleasant, and there was a serenity about her,” said Linitski, now a parishioner at Edmonton’s St. Thomas More Parish.
The same day Prince was hospitalized, she began hemorrhaging from the lungs, and Linitski stayed with the woman until her death, about five minutes later. It was two days before Prince’s 34th birthday.
Something was peculiar about Prince’s body, however. Her lifeless body did not cool down as one would expect, and rigor mortis did not set in. Doctors checked for vital signs, but none were there. A doctor withdrew blood from her arm, and the blood was black, indicating by the lack of oxygen that she was dead.
At the time, no one suspected that this was a supernatural event.
“In between 1949, when she died, and last year, I thought of her a number of times, but not often by any means. But the memory of what she was like after she died has stayed with me. Then when I heard a program about Rose on CBC, it really struck me,” said Linitski.
Only half listening to the radio program, she heard the name Rose Prince announced. “When they said Vanderhoof, then I realized it was the same Rose Prince that I knew. Then, a couple of weeks later I heard the program again. This time I really paid attention. It was on this program that they mentioned the healings and the pilgrimage,” Linitski told the Western Catholic Reporter.
Linitski learned Prince’s body had been buried in a little cemetery, part of the farmyard adjoining the school grounds. In 1951, the graves were relocated to a new cemetery on higher ground.
As Prince’s coffin was being excavated, it accidentally broke open. Three startled workers saw that her body was incorrupt, appearing to them as though she was not dead but merely asleep.
Neither her body nor clothing had decayed, despite the years that had passed since her death.
Sisters at the residential school were notified. Others came to witness the unusual phenomenon.
Some bodies are found to be incorrupt long after death. As a reward for a pure soul, God keeps the flesh free from decay. Also reported with some incorrupt bodies is the presence of pleasant fragrances about them such as jasmine or honey.
The only odour eminating from Prince’s open coffin was the sweet smell of roses. This led people, especially those from native communities, to visit her grave.
In 1990 Father Jules Goulet called for a pilgrimage to Lejac, near Fraser Lake, B.C. Although only 20 people gathered the first year, awareness has grown. In 1995 1,200 people made the trip. Miracles have been reported by people who have visited and taken earth from her grave.
The story of Prince’s incorrupt body made sense to Linitski and reminded her of her experience six decades earlier at the hospital. She felt compelled to make a pilgrimage to Lejac.
“The atmosphere at the pilgrimage the whole time was very reverent. Of course, as I was the last person to be with Rose alive, the people there recognized me. But it had nothing to do with me, really. It had to do with representing the last contact with Rose when she was living,” said Linitski.
This summer was the 20th Rose Prince Pilgrimage. More than 1,000 people came to pray, seek favours, and acknowledge spiritual healings at the event. Father Vince James organized the event and Bishop Gerald Wiesner offered Mass at its close.
Pilgrims came from the three western provinces, the Northwest Territories, Toronto, and Montana.
Ramona Johnson of Prince George is a second cousin to Prince. She attended the first pilgrimage in 1990 and has gone to many others since with her family and friends.
“She was a true blessing for all who attended Lejac Residential School. From what I was told she was a true saint by helping others in their time of need,” Johnson said.
For Johnson, personal highlights of the pilgrimage include meeting people from all over Canada, including the lieutenant general of B.C. and his wife, enjoying scrumptious food, and meeting the priests.
“For me, the pilgrimage means healing and the comfort of being around my elders from Fort St. James, as they go every year as well.
“It means healing for me from my own addiction problem of alcohol,” said Johnson.
The pilgrimage, she said, is a yearly reminder of God’s presence in her life.
Western Catholic Reporter