Rhoda Wise was born on February 22, 1888 and was the sixth child of Eli and Anna Greer . They eventually had eight children: five boys and three girls. She was born in Cadiz, Ohio. However, when she was two they moved to Wheeling, West Virginia. Her father Eli worked in the family trade of bricklaying. Her mother was very patriotic and became involved with the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization which supported the veterans of the Civil War, even serving as a state and a national president for a time.
Her parents were staunchly Protestant, and Rhoda grew up in the First Christian Church. There was a definite anti-Catholic bias in the family and among their friends. Rhoda often heard unkind remarks about Catholics and the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, she did have a few Catholic friends.
Incidentally, when she was sixteen, Rhoda had a small encounter with Catholicism. While she was in Wheeling Hospital for an appendicitis operation, she received a visit from a Catholic Sister who gave her a St. Benedict medal. Rhoda explained to Sister that because of her parents’ dislike for the Catholic Church she would never be allowed to wear it, so Sister put the small medal in Rhoda’s locket. Deeply touched by the Sisters kindness, Rhoda kept that hidden medal for the rest of her life.
A Difficult Life
Rhoda married Ernest Wissmar, a young widower from Canton, Ohio, in November of 1915 and moved to Canton, Ohio. Their marriage was not a happy one and ended tragically six months after it began. Ernest suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at a home where he was doing plaster work on May 16, 1916, leaving Rhoda a widow at twenty-eight. She met George Wise soon after Ernest’s death and she married him on January 27, 1917. Although she loved him dearly, George was a drinking man and the next twenty-three years of her life were plagued by countless struggles, embarrassment and financial difficulties that kind of life can cause.
Shortly after their marriage, George and Rhoda adopted a baby girl and named her Ruth. This little one lit up their lives for nearly a year until the Spanish flu epidemic that plagued the world at that time snuffed out her young life just eight days before her first birthday. When the pain of Ruth’s death eased, in 1922 George and Rhoda adopted a lovely child named Anna Mae, whom they loved dearly. Anna Mae would be their loving daughter and consolation for the rest of their lives.
In the early years after Anna Mae was adopted, George and Rhoda moved seven times, presumably because of Georges’s drinking problem which we can surmise caused him to change jobs frequently. In the end, 2337 25th St. NE in Canton, Ohio (the location of the present-day Shrine) was the only home their daughter Anna Mae would remember.
Severe Health Trials
Nine years after Anna Mae was adopted (1931), Rhoda developed a huge, 39 pound ovarian cyst. The cyst was so large in fact, there wasn’t a doctor in Canton willing to attempt its removal. Rhoda eventually found a doctor in Wheeling who would perform the surgery, but even he was not sure if she would live through it. She survived, but the cyst and the surgery negatively affected her gall bladder, which soon needed to be removed, and then later another surgery was needed for an obstruction in the bowel, which had become painfully impacted.
In December of 1936, she accidentally stepped into a sewer drain, which severely damaged her right leg, causing an infection and turning her foot inward. Thus began a long series of hospital visits, necessitating many leg casts in an effort to repair the damaged leg. Additionally, it was discovered that the earlier incision in her abdomen had reopened, causing a severe infection surrounding the incision. This would soon become a major problem. But for now, because of her damaged leg, she was mainly confined to bed from this point on, and returned every few months to the hospital for either a new cast or another operation in an effort to straighten the leg or to be fitted a new cast.
Her First Mystical Vision
It was at this this time that she was given the first of many visions. One day while she was confined to bed, Rhoda called George and Anna Mae into her room and said, “George, do you see Our Lord in the window? He is dressed as a shepherd and holding a lamb. George, Our Lord is handing you the lamb. Please take it.”
George walked away muttering under his breath. Anna Mae just stood there; she didn’t see a thing. Then Rhoda said to Anna Mae, “Our Lord is handing you the lamb. Please, take the lamb.” Anna Mae still saw nothing but held out her arms in a gesture to receive the lamb. Her mother smiled and turned her head toward the window. No doubt George walked away thinking his wife was headed for a breakdown, but Anna Mae was left with an entirely different impression, and in her later years recounted this incident often and with great emotion. At the time, however, no one paid any further attention to it.
Her Conversion to the Catholic Church
Rhoda’s sufferings grew worse by the day, but the nursing sisters at Mercy Hospital were a great consolation for her in the midst of it. She spent so much time at the hospital that she knew most of them by name. Dressed in their long white habits and veils, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine looked like angels of mercy to her. She became especially close to one named Sister Clement. Sister Clement was greatly devoted to Saint Thereseof Lisieux, and she gave Rhoda a little shrine to St. Therese, “the Little Flower,” enclosed in a glass ball, and she told Rhoda a little about her.
Rhoda didn’t pay much attention, but kept the shrine at her bedside. Sister Clement also gave her a prayer to Jesus and the Little Flower which Rhoda said only because she thought so much of Sister . When Sister Clement explained that St. Therese could help her in many ways, Rhoda told Sister flat out she didn’t believe it, even laughed at the idea – but it didn’t harm their friendship in the least.
Rhoda dearly loved the Sisters who took care of her at Mercy. In September, Rhoda was attracted to the crucifix on one of the Sister’s rosary. When Sister came over to her bed Rhoda took the crucifix and held it in her hands. Heat radiated from the crucifix as she held it. “Sister, will you teach me how to pray the rosary?” Rhoda asked. The Sister initially said no, as perhaps she had heard about Rhoda’s reaction to St. Therese. But Rhoda kept asking, and Sister eventually taught her. This Sister also gave Rhoda her first rosary, prayer book, and Sacred Heart Badge. From that time on, Rhoda prayed a rosary for the nursing Sisters every morning and night.
As Rhoda continued to pray the rosary, she began to have questions about the Catholic faith. When they came to mind she would write them down and ask Sister Clement the next time she saw her. One time Sister Clement explained about nine days of prayer called novenas that could be made to Jesus, Our Lady, or the saints for a special intention. She suggested a novena to St Therese– the Little Flower, but Rhoda wasn’t yet ready for that.
The rest of the article can be found in our newest magazine, Spring 2019 29#1/2 coming out soon!