st.Therese of Lisieux-Discalced Carmelite nun, mystic, Doctor of the Church

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Feast Day : October 1



Patronage: African missions; AIDS sufferers; air crews; aircraft pilots; aviators; Belgian air crews; black missions; bodily ills; florists; flower growers; foreign missions; against illness; loss of parents; missionaries; parish missions; restoration of religious freedom in Russia; against sick people; against sickness; Spanish air crews; tuberculosis; France; Russia




Also known as: Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower, the Saint of the Little Way



Thérèse of Lisieux was born on January 2, 1873, in Alcon, Normandy, the ninth child of a middle-class, devout French family. Her father, Louis Martin, was a watchmaker. The parents, who had desired cloistered lives themselves, encouraged religious interests in their children. Thérèse was four when her mother died of cancer, and she was placed in the care of her sisters Marie and Pauline. She was especially close to Pauline, and when her sister announced her intention to become a nun, Thérèse expressed not only the same desire but also the desire to become a saint. Later, she wrote her autobiography as though it were a letter to Pauline. From an early age Thérèse exhibited a delicate constitution, a strong desire for the religious life, and an intense desire to suffer for God. She called herself “the Little Flower.” She was concerned about the poor and gave alms to them as a child. After Pauline entered the Discalced Carmelite convent at Lisieux, nine-year-old Thérèse went to the mother superior and expressed her desire to join as well. She was told she would have to wait until age 16 to become a postulate. At age 10, Thérèse fell seriously ill. In her autobiography she blamed the illness on the devil, who was angry at Pauline for entering the convent and so punished the family for the harm that would come to him as a result. Her illness brought fits of delirium and strange behavior, as well as great suffering. One day she was cured when she had a vision in which a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary came to life and smiled at her. The entrance of Marie into the Carmelite convent intensified Thérèse’s desire to become a nun herself. Her father refused to give her his permission to do so until she was 17. She appealed to her uncle, who gave his consent, but Pauline told her that the superior of Carmel would not allow her to enter until she was 21. At 15 she accompanied her father on a pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the jubilee of Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878–1903). In an audience before the pope, Thérèse begged him to allow her to join the Carmelites at her young age. He told her to follow the guidance of the appropriate authorities, and that it would happen if God willed it so. Upon their return, Thérèse was admitted on April 9, 1888. She chose the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus to distinguish herself from another nun whose name was Thérèse. She took the veil on September 24; her ailing father was too ill to attend. Her spiritual marriage took place on September 8, 1890. Thérèse suffered through an initial spiritual dryness after entering the convent, and then seemed to go back and forth from great happiness to great sadness. She gave instruction to novices and devoted herself to her spiritual work. She constantly sought suffering to purify herself, and wished to die young. Once toward the end of her life she had a dream in which she was walking in the convent corridor with the mother superior, when three veiled Carmelite nuns suddenly appeared. She knew they were from heaven. One was the Venerable Mother Anne of Jesus, the founder of Carmel in France. Her face was lit by an unearthly radiance. Thérèse asked her if God would come for her soon. She said yes, and that God was very pleased with her. In 1895 Thérèse, in prayer, offered herself as a victim to “God’s merciful love.” She had begun the stations of the cross when she felt herself wounded by a flaming dart, and thought she would die from the intensity of the fire of divine love. The experience was similar to the transverberation, or the piercing of the heart, with fiery arrows and blades, as experienced by St. Teresa of Avila and Padre Pio. In 1895, her sister Pauline, then prioress, and whose religious name was Mother Agnes of Jesus, instructed her to write an account of her early life. She did so in the small amount of spare time she had in the evenings. In April 1896 Thérèse showed the first symptoms of tuberculosis. Initially her illness was not seen as serious, but by wintertime it was evident that she was fatally ill. She was relieved of all her duties in May 1897, and was instructed to continue her story with her experiences at Carmel. She began that work in June 1897. During her final illness, Mother Agnes recorded all of her conversations, spiritual experiences and counsels, which later were published in a small book, Novissima Verba. Thérèse died on September 30, 1897, at the convent, with the cry of “My God, I love thee!” on her lips and a radiant look upon her face. She was buried at the cemetery of Lisieux. Many miracles were reported through her intercession, among them a manifestation of much-needed money at a Discalced Carmelite convent in Gallipoli, Italy, in 1910. The prioress, Mother Mary Carmela, dreamed one night that Thérèse appeared to her in heavenly raiment, bilocated the two of them to the parlor and placed 500 francs inside a box. The money was found there the following morning. Thérèse’s autobiography was published in 1898 on the anniversary of her death. Interspersed with accounts of her life are Thérèse’s spiritual insights, profound for such a young and relatively inexperienced person. She called her doctrine “the little way of spiritual childhood,” which involves an infallible trust in, and love of, God. Its simplicity and purity have had an enduring appeal. The Story of a Soul remains one of the most popular of Catholic books. It has been published in 38 languages. Mother Agnes of Jesus devoted much time to answering the letters that poured in from Thérèse’s devotees around the world. Her body was exhumed on September 6, 1910. A strong scent of violets permeated some of the boards of the coffin that had been removed, as well as the saint’s clothing and a palm that was still fresh in her hand. The palm was considered a sign of her martyrdom of self, of which she had said, “I desire at all costs to win the palm of Agnes; if not by the shedding of blood, it must be by Love.” The palm was kept at the convent. Throughout her monastic life Thérèse experienced many graces and mystical experiences in addition to the spiritual wounding. During her novitiate, she had transports of love, or raptures in which she felt far removed from the earth. During her final illness, she exhibited an unusual rapport with birds, who came to the window of the infirmary and sang until she died. On her deathbed, Thérèse made many prophesies, and said she would be the instrument of much good to many souls after her death. She had cleared clouds from the sky, and decreed that at the moment of her passing the sky would be cloudless. The sky was cloudy on the day of her death, but cleared rapidly at the time she passed, at about 7 P.M. Pope Pius X (r. 1903–14) called her “the greatest saint of modern times.” Pope Pius XI (r. 1922–39) called her “the star of my pontificate.”

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