What Aunt Rosie Taught Me About Being Single


What Aunt Rosie Taught Me About Being Single

Editor’s Note: The CatholicMatch Institute is excited to present a series from Marriage: Unique for a Reason, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Each post in this series will offer reflections on Catholic singles and the family.

A family hero

Have you ever noticed in families that there is always someone who cares for people? Parents care for children. Siblings care for each other. What, however, about the extended family? Does anyone else in the family extend such care? In my family, I can tell you that single aunts, uncles, and cousins are at the forefront of helping each other. They are often the unsung family heroes. I know because I have seen this first hand.

My family is a large Italian-American one. My mother is the last of twelve and my father is fourth in a line of nine. As you can imagine, many relatives in this clan have married and had their own children, who have had children as well. But some have not married (like me). And, others have remained single after either losing a spouse to an illness or through the sadness of divorce. I have witnessed the rich contributions to the life of the family in the example of my single cousins, uncles, and aunts. Among my single family members the characteristic of generosity of time and talents is notable.

There is Cousin Manuel for example, who would spend hours on a Saturday afternoon teaching my sisters and I about opera.

Or, Uncle Jazz who throws a big Christmas eve party complete with all the traditional Italian fish dishes (at least as far as the Notare family defines them!). Or Cousin Giovina, who after her father died immediately took her mother to live with her and was always ready to pitch in to help someone in need. Probably the most representative of this clan is Aunt Rosie.

After Aunt Rosie’s husband died in her early forties, she remained single until she died at age ninety-one. Aunt Rosie devoted herself to taking care of the entire Jannicelli clan (that would be my mother’s side of the family).

Aunt Rosie’s generosity was legendary.

She didn’t have much money (her profession had been a cook in a large public school). Her generosity came in the form of the gift of herself and her many talents. At any given moment in a day she could be found doing something for someone, especially a family member.

Baker, ballerina, and friend

For example, Aunt Rosie was a marvelous cook. She never tired of cooking for others or teaching others how to cook. But beware, if you borrowed one of her recipes, it was always from her public school cooking days and often called for enormous amounts of ingredients like twenty-pounds of butter and forty pounds of flour! In the days before the Internet, if you had a cooking question, you would undoubtedly call Rose Rocha to find out what to do. She always had the right answer.

More importantly however, Aunt Rosie nurtured family members. She looked after not only her own children, but those of her siblings. If one relative wasn’t treating another right, Aunt Rosie would step in and ensure that justice and family unity prevailed. For the children, Aunt Rosie would listen to childish stories about friends and school.

She could also be found playing silly games—like dancing for me like a “real ballerina!”

Aunt Rose gave sage advice to all and was the life of the party (singing old American or Italian songs).

Aunt Rosie checked in on family members regularly, always giving the gift of her time. And, lest you think she was merely a fun-loving party girl, she had the gumption to handle the most difficult of problems. So if, for example, someone was seriously sick, she not only would be there to help, but would call other family members as well to pitch in. It was Aunt Rosie who led the family team who cared for my dying grandmother, uncles, and grandfather. Rose Rocha didn’t mind getting her hands dirty and certainly understood the cost of love in hard times.

Much later in life, long after Aunt Rosie died, I realized the lessons I had learned from her. The most important being that despite the struggles in life, love poured out on others makes for a very happy life.

In Aunt Rosie I had the example of a joyful, vibrant, and happy single woman who blossomed in the heart of the family. 

Aunt Rose set the tone for how a single family member can enrich the family!



  1. John-1229247 August 18, 2016 Reply

    I really enjoyed reading article and the discussions there after. Two inspirations come to mind. First “Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself.” As a single person I can get lost in the service to the Church, my family, friends and work, ie; to love them all and not have the streanght or ability to Love God above all or to love myself or another words find my vocation which is what God wants us all to do. Unless I pray for one and have “eyes open to see with and ears attentive to hear with” it cannot be possible. Only throught the Holy Spirit and Jesus can we have life, bear fruit. Second ” The two shall become one flesh” spirituality and bodily” ie: Married and religious. By bringing two physical, spiritual bodies together with the One Holy Spirit,ie: a religious life or marriage makes an invincible bond that bears life/fruit that can never die, an eternal living. Two is stronger than one, and 3 is stronger than two, so it is very difficult or almost impossible to live a single life without grace and very heroic and meritorious in my opinion living life with grace. God bless Aunt Rosie, thank you Theresa for the article, and others commenting very helpful.

  2. Kathleen-1238622 August 18, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for all the spot-on comments…like many of you, I know full well how it is to be appointed the “designated giver” both within and outside of my extended family, as I am the only single adult in it. And, my own situation puts yet another spin on this ball, because, although I can be kind and generous, my career girl genes definitely trump my mom genes, and so I find myself feeling quite mislabeled when people automatically expect me to be a cuddly Aunt Rosie. It’s simply not my style, and people just don’t get that, which unfortunately leads to lots of resentment on both sides and more labeling, as I get accused of being “cold,” when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just me.

    Again, all this alludes to a theme I’ve addressed in other posts on this forum, namely that “society” seems determined to define and to slap labels on single people rather than appreciate them as individuals. If you’re single, you “must” be either the super-sexy girls and guys from “Sex and the City,” or, at the other end of the continuum, Aunt Rosie/Aunt Bee or Uncle Charlie or the Church Lady/Church Guy. And, the ultra-sad fact of such labeling is that each label contains within it a pernicious societal attitude about an individual’s chances for marriage; the super-sexys are seen as not needing marriage, and the “home girls” and boys are perceived as dowdy, non-sexual beings whom love has passed by. And, it’s all such a big load of hurtful rubbish.

  3. Paul-99681 August 16, 2016 Reply

    A very nice story Theresa !
    I understand family very well as well single life because it was almost impossible for myself and all my siblings to meet anyone where we lived because the single people were way too young and the ones near our age were married and because of the ranch and family business , we were really needed at home.
    My sisters did get married later in life but both my younger brothers passed away and my father did too then my older sister passed away from cancer and my mother who had been in my care for two year passed away from dementia.
    I live alone now on the ranch what is sort of like a small ghost town with my sisters empty house and I have more rooms then I know what to do with .
    I always keep busy and never lack for things to do and actually it seems more normal not to have a woman around but it’s almost feels magical when one is because the house seems to come back to life.


  4. Christina-1116122 August 16, 2016 Reply

    “Another thing to keep in mind, is that while we are all called to charity, we also have to be careful about putting this expectation of care on single people. They also have their own lives and responsibilities. Sometimes those might make it just as hard, if not harder in some cases, for the single person to be such a source of care. We shouldn’t judge them for that or expect something different… if we do put that pressure on them, and slot them in that role, as Pat pointed out, we can very well mistakenly then make it harder for them to find and fulfill their vocation, something they have a right to pursue.”

    Exactly. What many family members forget is that for a single person, “I’m the only paycheck I’ve got.” I was always happy to pitch in with my parents (my late father’s dementia, my mother’s concurrent hip replacement, etc.), but it did involve taking time off from my business without pay, and incurring travel expenses, not to mention what it’s like to drive 20 hours, one way, alone, over two days of wintery conditions, to pitch in. I always did it out of love, but I was often surprised to hear that that should simply be expected of me because I was single.

    I’m looking forward to marriage in the near future to the match I made here, and am grateful that we can be two strong pillars for each other.

  5. Anne-1158588 August 14, 2016 Reply

    What a beautiful story Theresa! Thank you for sharing this with us. Auntie Rose’s position as being a single person is quite a bit different from someone who has never shared marital love and family life with another. She had a past to remember with love and fondness. In fact, she may have been so in love with her husband that she could not see herself being married to anyone else after he passed on. I have a friend like that. The loneliness is hard for them, but the story have having had such a love is truly inspiring! Now, the one thing I really took away from this story was that Auntie Rose was a very giving person. This also is extremely inspiring! There are SO many people in this world, married and single, who never figure this out. They focus on their own wants and needs far too much and fail to see the good they can do in this world to help others. Our society does not help by encouraging self-gratification no matter what the costs to others. Single people who wish to be married can take a good lesson away from Auntie Rose and focus on trying to be givers, as self-giving is the basis for a solid marriage. You were so blessed to have an aunt like that! God bless.

  6. Lindsay-1263824 August 14, 2016 Reply

    Thank you Pat!

    I think we can all be “Aunt Rosie’s” regardless of whether or not we are married. A few years ago my Grandpa was in a care home. For the last few years of his life, a married cousin of mine did more for him than any of his older children with grown kids. She did so much, that when Grandpa passed, my out-of-town Mom (who only heard about what she did), felt that my cousin should be considered a kid and given an equal share in the Will. That didn’t go over so well with some…

    But point being, despite being married and having three children of her own (all teenagers or in their 20s), my cousin could also still be an example of charity and love… more than some single Aunts and Uncles.

    Another thing to keep in mind, is that while we are all called to charity, we also have to be careful about putting this expectation of care on single people. They also have their own lives and responsibilities. Sometimes those might make it just as hard, if not harder in some cases, for the single person to be such a source of care. We shouldn’t judge them for that or expect something different… if we do put that pressure on them, and slot them in that role, as Pat pointed out, we can very well mistakenly then make it harder for them to find and fulfill their vocation, something they have a right to pursue.

  7. Pat-5351 August 14, 2016 Reply

    I see Aunt Rosie is a completely different way. I don’t see her as a “single” person at all, but as a widow who continued to live her vocation to marriage until her death, of faithfulness and service and family and spiritual motherhood. She is a beautiful example of that. As a single person I find her inspiring, and try to do the same, and from the outside it might look similar, but the genesis of the actions are coming from different places. If the point is that there is a place for people who are not currently married in a family, because they can be of great service to others in that family, yes, of course that is true. But that is no reason to remain single. I think we do single Catholics a disservice when we give them more (and pretty compelling sounding) reasons to keep on not getting married. God will make silk from straw, as he did from Aunt Rosie’s widowhood, but I imagine she was not seeking it, and I don’t think we all should seek to be the Auntie Rosie in our families. Be the Auntie Rosie if there is no other way to intimately serve a particular other through a permanent exclusive vow (that which is required by a vocation), but don’t seek to be her, don’t use that as a default ‘end goal’ so it can seem you chose it when it happens to you. No, fight for your vocation to marriage, resist consolation explanations for what has/has not happened in your life. Go out there and find your vocation (to marriage or the religious life). Anything else might be made to bear fruit because that is how God works, but it will not the same of extent of fruitfulness He intended for you.

    • Emily-647155 August 14, 2016 Reply

      Exactly. I feel the same way. She was a widow who went on to life her life in a different way after her husband died.

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