SAINT THERESE OF LISIEUX (JANUARY 2, 1873 – SEPTEMBER 30, 1897), OR SAINT THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS WAS A FRENCH CARMELITE NUN. SHE IS ALSO KNOWN AS “THE LITTLE FLOWER OF JESUS” OR SIMPLY, “THE LITTLE FLOWER”.
She felt an early call to religious life, and overcoming various obstacles, in 1888 at the early age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her elder sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious, having fulfilled various offices such as sacristan and assistant to the novice mistress, and having spent her last eighteen months in Carmel in a night of faith, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.
The impact of The Story of a Soul, a collection of her autobiographical manuscripts, printed and distributed a year after her death to an initially very limited audience, was great, and she rapidly became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. Pope Pius XI made her the “star of his pontificate”. She was beatified in 1923, and canonized in 1925. Thérèse was declared co-patron of the missions with Francis Xavier in 1927, and named co-patron of France with Joan of Arc in 1944. On October 19, 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church, the youngest person, and only the third woman, to be so honored. Devotion to Thérèse has developed around the world.
Therese lived a hidden life and “wanted to be unknown,” yet became popular after her death through her spiritual autobiography. She also left letters, poems, religious plays, prayers, and her last conversations were recorded by her sisters. Paintings and photographs – mostly the work of her sister Céline – further led to her being recognized by millions of men and women.
According to one of her biographers, Guy Gaucher, after her death, “Therese fell victim to an excess of sentimental devotion which betrayed her. She was victim also to her language, which was that of the late nineteenth century and flowed from the religiosity of her age.” Therese herself said on her death-bed, “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence”, and she spoke out against some of the Lives of saints written in her day, “We should not say improbable things, or things we do not know. We must see their real, and not their imagined lives
The depth of her spirituality, of which she said, “my way is all confidence and love,” has inspired many believers. In the face of her littleness and nothingness, she trusted in God to be her sanctity. She wanted to go to heaven by an entirely new little way. “I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus.” The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness.
Therese is well known throughout the world, with the Basilica of Lisieux being the second largest place of pilgrimage in France after Lourdes.