St. Therese of the Child Jesus

“I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission to make God loved as I love Him, to teach souls my little way. It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” -Words spoken by St. Therese on July 17, 1897

St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Short Biography of St. Therese

 

“The greatest saint of modern times”, as Pope St. Pius X called St. Therese, was born in Alencon, France on January 2, 1873. She was the youngest of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin, five of whom survived childhood. Therese Martin was a naturally loving and affectionate child who was doted upon by the whole family. Therese divided her life into three periods and the first ‘happy’ period ended when her mother died when she was 4 ½ years old.  For the next decade Therese lived through the second period of her life where she went through many difficulties and struggled with oversensitivity.

 

St. Therese experienced what she called her ‘complete conversion’ on Christmas Night 1886 when she was almost 14 and that began the third and most beautiful period of her life. She became determined to enter the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux and convinced her father, Louis Martin, to allow her to enter the convent at age 15.

 

There turned out to be many obstacles to Therese’s plan to enter the convent. Fr. Delatroette, the ecclesiastical Superior of the Lisieux Carmel, forbade her entrance before age 21. She met with Bishop Hugonin with her father and was told that he would have to consult with the Superior first. She already knew how that would turn out! She even pleaded with Pope Leo XIII himself during a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Father uttered the words, “Go…go…You will enter if God wills it.” (Story of A Soul, p. 135)

 

God did ‘will it’ and Therese entered Carmel on April 9, 1888. She proved herself to be a good and faithful nun and she made her Solemn Profession on September 8, 1890. She lived such an exemplary life of hidden heroism that the other nuns did not realize that they were living with a ‘little saint’.

 

Story of A Soul, the work that would eventually make Therese famous around the world, was originally written in three different manuscripts to three different recipients. Manuscript A was written in 1895 at the directive of Mother Agnes and contained Therese’s childhood memories. Manuscript B was written as a letter in response to an inquiry made by Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart. In 1897 she wrote Manuscript C about her religious life at the directive of Mother Marie de Gonzague. St. Therese died on September 30, 1897 from tuberculosis. Story of A Soul was published posthumously one year to the day after Therese’s death and has inspired millions of people around the world ever since.

 

 

Her Spritual Legacy

 

“I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission to make God loved as I love Him, to teach souls my little way. After my death, you must not speak to anyone about my manuscript before it is published; you must speak only to Mother Prioress about it. If you act otherwise, the devil will lay more than one trap to hinder God’s work, a very important work.” (Introduction to the First Edition of Story of A Soul, p. xi)

 

The manuscript that St. Therese is speaking of is her Autobiography which can be seen as her legacy to the world and her message to simple souls. Two months before her death on September 30, 1897, St. Therese promised that, “If God grants my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of time. Yes, I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth…I will return! I will come down! God would not give me this desire to do good on earth after my death if he did not want to realize it; he would give me rather the desire to rest in Him.” (The Story of a Life, p. 197) These promises are very audacious!

 

Could this have simply been the wanderings of a sick mind due to her tuberculosis? This posthumous mission of St. Therese would have to be judged by its fruits. After the first edition of Story of A Soul was published in 1898, thousands started to read and enjoy Therese’s story. Many wrote to the Carmel praising this work including some bishops, religious, and many lay people. By 1915 the Carmel had sent out 211,515 copies of Therese’s Autobiography and between 1898 and 1925 (the year Therese was canonized) 30,328,000 pictures of Therese had been sent out. Many young women asked to join the Carmel in Lisieux. (The Story of a Life, p. 208, 212) On February 12, 1899 Sister Marie of the Eucharist wrote a letter to a cousin about Therese’s influence: “Everyone is speaking to us about this beloved angel who is doing so much good through her writings.

 

Priests are comparing her to St. Teresa and say she has opened up a whole new way to souls, the way of love. They are all enthusiastic, not only around us, but throughout France, and in most of their sermons they are quoting from the inspired passages of her manuscript. There are even men of the world, whom piety somewhat embarrasses, who are enthusiastic about it and have made it their favourite reading.” (The Story of a Life, p. 209) Great theologians of the 20th Century such as Abbe Combes, Fr. Molinie, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and Fr. Congar expressed that Therese’s writings have caused a positive revolution in the Church on a worldwide scale. Many observed that her teachings seemed to foresee some aspects of Vatican II such as the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of the laity. More than 1,700 churches in the world have been named in her honor and more than a million pilgrims pass through Lisieux each year. (The Story of a Life, p. 214, 216) Over a century after her death, millions have read and benefitted from the spiritual wisdom contained in Story of A Soul.

 

Recognition

The Story of A Soul was first published on September 30, 1898, one year to the day after Therese died. 2,000 copies of the work were printed and one of the nuns commented, “What are we going to do with all these books?” The books were quickly sold and more printings took place. Within a decade of Therese's death, hundreds of miracles attributed to her intercession were reported in Lisieux and pilgrims began to visit her grave to pray. Several of the Sisters testified that they smelled roses in the convent and the Prioress of the Gallipoli Carmel claimed to see an apparition of Therese.

 

In June 1914 Pope Pius X signed the Decree for the Introduction of the Cause for Canonization and told a missionary bishop privately that Sr. Therese was “the greatest Saint of modern times”. Therese was Beatified (the step right before canonization) on April 29, 1923 by Pope Pius XI who called her “the star of his pontificate”. On May 17, 1925 Therese was Canonized by Pope Pius XI before an audience of 60,000 people. There were as many as 500,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. The same pope named St. Therese the Patroness of the Worldwide Missions equal to St. Francis Xavier in 1927. His successor, Pope Pius XII, named her the Patroness of France equal to St. Joan of Arc in 1944.

 

St. Therese received the supreme honor by being named one of only 33 Doctors of the Universal Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997.

 

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Disclosure: All the writings and recommended resources of this website are in line with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.