St. Theresa of Lisieux
St. Therese of Lisieux was born Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin
on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France. She was baptized two
days later on January 4th. She sums her life in this way, "All
my life God surrounded me with love. My first memories are imprinted
with the most tender smiles and caresses....Those were the sunny
years of my childhood." Her parents were Louis Martin (1823-1894)
and Zelie Guerin (1831 - 1877). Her father was a watchmaker and
her mother a lace maker. Both parents were born into military
families and both wanted to enter the religious life but married
instead. St Therese was the youngest of their nine children. Two
of their sons and one daughter died shortly after birth. Another
daughter died at the age of five. St. Therese was very weak and
frail as an infant. When she was three months old Zelie wrote
in a letter, "I have no hope of saving her. The poor little
thing suffers horribly....It breaks your heart to see her."
Therese the little flower proved to be much tougher than anyone
knew. She survived the illness and another when she was seven
Saint Therese de Lisieux was blond, blue-eyed, affectionate
and stubborn. She could make people laugh and she could throw
tantrums as none had even seen. Her parents and her older sisters
coddling and spoiling added to her precocious nature.
St. Therese's mother died of breast cancer when Therese was four
years old. The following winter her father moved his family to
When Saint Therese was about seven she was fell ill with a serious
fever and bouts of hallucinations no doctor could explain. She
blamed it on the devil. She later wrote of that frightening illness
in her autobiography, Story of a Soul. "I was absolutely
terrified by everything: my bed seemed to be surrounded by frightful
precipices; some nails in the wall of the room took on the appearance
of big black charred fingers, making me cry out in fear. One day,
while Papa was looking at me and smiling, the hat in his hand
was suddenly transformed into some indescribable dreadful shape
and I showed such great fear that poor Papa left the room sobbing."
It is said that on May 13, 1883, Theresa of Lisieux prayed to
a statue of the Virgin near her bed. "Suddenly Mary's face
radiated kindness and love." Therese was cured. That statue
has since been called "Our Lady of the Smile".
In October, 1881, Louis had enrolled Therese as a day boarder
at Lisieux's Benedictine Abbey school of Notre-Dame du Pre. Therese
later explained those five years (1881 - 1886) "the saddest
of my life." Classes bored her. She worked hard, and loved
catechism, history and science, but had trouble with spelling
and mathematics. Because she was intelligent and quick the nuns
advanced the eight-year-old to classes for fourteen-year-olds.
She was still bored. Her keenness aroused the envy of many fellow
pupils and that caused Therese to pay dearly for her academic
Therese's older sister, Pauline, had entered the Carmelite monastery
before her mysterious illness. When she recovered, Therese decided
she would also like to enter the convent. She was just nine years
old was urged to table those wishes. Therese refused. The wish
grew stronger and she wasn't fifteen years old when she approached
the Carmelite authorities for permission to enter the convent.
When turned down she took her request to the bishop who advised
her to return when she was twenty-one. She did not. In fact, later
that year, she convinced her father to accompany a group of French
pilgrims to attend Pope Leo XIII's Golden Jubilee as a priest.
There Therese Lisieux dared to confront the pope herself.
During an unprecedented audience with the Pope in which Therese
pleaded to be allowed to enter the Carmelite monastery. The pastoral
leader of the French pilgrimage was not pleased and attempted
to discourage Therese in front of the Pope. But Therese implored
further and the Pope gave his blessing.
As the story is told, (from the Society of the Little Flower Homepage/
Therese Life Story) "Therese did not want to leave the Holy
Father's presence, so the papal guards had to lift her up and
carry the tearful young girl to the door. There they gave her
a medal of Leo XIII. Her old nurse, Victoire, probably could have
told the Pope he should not have been surprised. Victoire had
seen Therese in some rare displays of determination."
Therese of Lisieux's sister, Pauline, was already a member of
the Carmelite society. Her sister, Celine, would join shortly
before Therese and after their father's death, their sister, Marie,
would join. Celine took her camera to the convent with her. So
it is that St. Therese is the first saint to have her life told
pictures taken by her older sister.
Therese would only live another nine years. She lived them in
the Carmelite Monastery at Lisieux. She made her profession of
vows Sept, 8,1890 where she took the religious name 'Therese
the Child of Jesus and the Holy Face'. She was said to have
been a good nun, conscientious and capable. The worked hard and
she wrote poems and plays. She was appointed to instruct the novices
of the community. In short she led a remarkably ordinary life.
So ordinary in fact she began to refer to her life, her simplicity
in prayer and acceptance of God's love as her 'little way'.
Theresa of Lisieux was known for falling asleep during prayer
hours in the chapel but she noted that 'God loved her even though
she often slept during the time for prayer'. The Church would
recognize a profound and valuable teaching in 'the little way'--an
awareness of one's limitations, the wholehearted giving of what
one has no matter how small the gift.
The prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, wrote in the convent register,
"The nine and a half years she spent among us leave our souls
fragrant with the most beautiful virtues with which the life of
a Carmelite can be filled. A perfect model of humility, obedience,
charity." (i.e. the Society of the Little Flower-Homepage/Therese
Therese's final years were marked by a steady decline. She was
diagnosed with tuberculosis and on July 1897 she was moved to
the monastery infirmary. She died on September 30, 1897, at
age 24. On her death-bed, she is reported to have said, "I
have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because
all suffering is sweet to me." Her last words were, "My
God, I love Thee." It was also in those last days that she
made her infinite promise, "After my death I will let fall
a shower of roses. I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth."
During the last years of her life and during the final months
of her confinement Therese wrote her autobiography, 'The Story
of a Soul'. After her death her sister edited story and it
was finally published in 1898 with an original printing of two-thousand
copies. Today the book remains a beloved best seller throughout
the world. She also wrote two volumes of letters, some poems,
prayers and eight plays.
Twenty-six years after her death Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face was beatified by Pope Pius XI, and in the year
of Jubilee, 1925, she was canonized a saint. Two years
later she was named heavenly patroness of foreign missions along
with St. Francis Xavier.
On August 24, 1997 Pope John Paul II announced at the World Youth
Day in France that Saint Therese Lisieux patron of the church
was to be named a Doctor of the Church. There are only thirty-three
Doctors of the Church. Not only is St. Theresa the youngest doctor
she was the third woman to be proclaimed Doctor, together with
St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Therese of Avila.
Today, 711 years after her simplistic life ended with praise to
the Lord in her last breath, St. Therese of Lisieux the Little
Flower, the Child of Jesus, remains one of the most beloved saints.
Her writings, her 'little way' and simplistic acceptance and expression
of faith has been a guide to countless numbers who invoke her
Along with patroness of missions (not because she traveled to
missions but because of her support of the missions from long
distance away) she is also patron of florists, aviators and Russia.
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