“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”
– St. Thérèse
St. Therese of the Child Jesus was born on January 2, 1873 at Alencon, France. She was the youngest daughter of Blessed Louis Martin, a watchmaker, and Blessed Zelie Guerin, a successful lace maker. Both of her parents were devout Catholics and were recently beatified on October 17, 2008. She was christened Marie Francoise Therese Martin at Our Lady of Notre Dame Church.
At age four, her mother Zelie, died of breast cancer.
The loss of her mother affected her immensely. From being cheerful, she became withdrawn and overly sensitive. She would later write, “Every detail of my mother’s illness is still with me, especially her last weeks on earth.” Her elder sisters, Pauline and Marie, took over the task of caring for her.
St. Therese’s family moved to Lisieux shortly after her mother’s death. Her sster Marie ran the household while another sister, Pauline took charge of her religious upbringing.
At Lisieux, she continued her studies at the Benedictine Abbey School for Notre Dame Du Pre. She proved to be very capable student but she was also a very lonely and reserved child.
In October, her elder sister Pauline entered Carmel, a contemplative order of nuns. She was devastated to have lost her “second mother” but Pauline’s example would also draw St. Therese to the same vocation.
She expressed her desire to enter the contemplative life as well but she was not allowed by the Bishop of Bayeux and the Carmelite authorities because of her young age.
On the feast of the Pentecost, St. Therese was cured of an unknown sickness through the intercession of Our Lady of the Smile. She wrote of this, “Our Blessed Lady has come to me. She has smiled upon me. How happy I am.”
On the Christmas Eve of 1886, fourteen year-old St. Therese experienced the miracle of conversion.
Years later, she would say of the event, “On that blessed night… Jesus, who saw it fit to make Himself a child out of love for me, saw it fit to have me come forth from the swaddling clothes and imperfections of childhood.”
In 1887, St. Therese approached her father, Louis to tell him of her plans to enter Carmel. Louis cried at what he heard but understood her intentions and gave her his blessing. He pointed her towards a little white flower and told her about the care with which God has created and preserved it.
St. Therese believed the story of the little flower was also her own.
Louis took his two daughters Celine and Therese on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. During the audience with the Pope, St. Therese boldly asked him to allow her to enter Carmel at 15 years old.
The Pope upheld the decision of the Bishop and the Carmel authorities for St. Therese to wait for the right time but was impressed by her devotion.
Soon after, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the prioress to receive St. Therese. On April 9 she became a Carmelite postulant.
On January 10, 1889, St. Therese was given the Carmelite habit. She then took on the same name “Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.”
St. Therese began writing The Story of a Soul (L’histoirede’uneame), her spiritual memoir which she wrote upon the orders of two prioresses of her monastery.
By this time, St. Therese’s health was steadily declining and she had Tuberculosis.
She was supposed to join the Carmelite mission in French Indochina but could no longer travel because of her sickness.
On September 30, she died at the age of 24.
The Story of a Soul, St. Therese’s memoir, was published posthumously. The original manuscript was edited by her sister Pauline, who is known religiously as Mother Agnes of Jesus. Her memoir was little known at first, but few expected the impact it would create on the Catholic faithful.
Miracles through the intercession of St. Therese were reported.
People being suddenly cured from medical conditions like ulcers and tuberculosis attributed their recovery to St. Therese. Even French soldiers from the First World War claim to have seen her several times on the battleflied to give them courage.
Some biographies of Edith Piaf, a beloved French singer, state that in 1922, as an unknown seven-year-old, she was cured from blindness after a pilgrimage to Lisieux.
Pope Benedict XV pronounced St. Therese a “venerable servant of God.”
St. Therese was beatified (declared “Blessed”) by Pope Pius XI.
St. Therese was canonized by Pope Pius XI, only 28 years after her death.
Pope Pius XI declared St. Therese as Patroness of the Missions with St. Francis Xavier.
Pope Pius XII declared St. Therese secondary co-patroness of France with St. Joan of Arc.
The centenary of St. Therese’s birth year was celebrated.
Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Lisieux where St. Therese lies.
The Basilica of St. Therese in Lisiuex is second only to Lourdes as the most-visited pilgrimage site in France.
The Centenary of St. Therese’s death was commemorated.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Therese a “Doctor of the Church.” She is one of only three women so named. The others are Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena.