St. Therese of Lisieux

The Life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux


Thérèse was born in Rue Saint-Blaise, Alençon, in France on 2 January 1873, the daughter of Marie-Azélie Guérin (called Zélie), and Louis Martin, a jeweler and watchmaker. 

Both her parents were devout Catholics who would eventually become the first and only married couple canonized together by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015.

From an early age it was Thérèse's ambition and desire to be a saint. She was born into a pious and loving Catholic family. She lived with her parents and 5 sisters in the unspoilt French countryside.

Her Mother died from breast cancer when Thérèse was 4 years old.  She felt the pain of separation and instinctively turned to the Virgin Mary for comfort and reassurance during a 2 year period of inner turmoil. 

She was unhappy at school; where her natural precociousness and piety made other school children jealous. Eventually her father agreed for Thérèse to return home and be taught by her elder sister, Celine.

She enjoyed being taught at home, however after a while, her eldest sister made a decision to enter the local Carmel convent at Lisieux. This made Thérèse feel like she had lost her second mother. 

Shortly afterwards Thérèse experienced a painful unknown illness, in which she suffered delusions. For three weeks she suffered with a high fever. Eventually Thérèse felt completely healed after her sister's placed a statue of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the bed. Thérèse felt her health and mental state returned to normal very quickly. 

Soon after on Christmas Eve 1884, she recounts having a remarkable conversion of spirit. She says she lost her inclination to please herself with her own desires.

Instead, she felt a burning desire to pray for the souls of others and forget herself. She says that on this day, she lost her childhood immaturity and felt a very strong calling to enter the convent at the unprecedented early age of 15.

Carmelite Years
Initially the Church authorities refused to allow a girl, who was so young to enter holy orders and advised her to come back when she was 21 and "grown up". 

However, Thérèse's mind was made up, she couldn't bear to wait and felt God was calling her to enter the cloistered life. Thérèse was so determined she travelled to the Vatican to personally speak to the Pope asking for permission to enter a convent. Soon after, she was able to join her 2 sisters in the Carmelite convent of Lisieux. 

Convent life was not without its hardships; it was cold and accommodation was basic. Not all sisters warmed to this 15-year-old girl. At times she became the subject of gossip, one of her superiors took a very harsh attitude to this young "spoilt middle class" girl. 

However, Thérèse sought always to respond to criticism and gossip with the attitude of love. No matter what others said Thérèse responded by denying her sense of ego. 

Eventually the nun who had criticised Thérèse so much said: "Why do you always smile at me, Why are you always so kind, even when I treat you badly?" 

The Little Way
This was the "little way" which Thérèse sought to follow. Her philosophy was: 'what was important was not doing great works but doing little things with the power of love. If we can maintain the right attitude, then nothing shall remain that can't be accomplished'. 

St. Thérèse was encouraged by the elder nuns to ask her to write down her way of spiritual practise. She wrote three books that explained her "little way" and also included her personal spiritual autobiography, the Story of a Soul.     

Death and Canonization
St. Thérèse died tragically early at the age of 24 from Tuberculosis. However after her death, the writings became avidly read by, first other nuns, and then the wider Catholic community. 

Although initially intended only for a small audience her books have been frequently republished. Thus after her death she was able to achieve her intuitive feeling that she would be able to do something great and help save souls. 

St. Thérèse was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925, only 26 years after her death. In 1997 St. Thérèse was declared Doctor of the Catholic Church.