St Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, (1873-1897)

One of the most popular saints of modern times—the "star" of the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, the saint whose Story of a Soul brought holiness close to millions and whose "Little Way" made her loved all over the world—is St Therese of Lisieux (also called Sister Therese of the Child Jesus).

But she was no plaster-cast saint, in spite of the efforts of many admirers to make her so. Her holiness was hard won, "at the point of the sword," she said, and her sanctity had a toughness to it that shines through her letters and authentic sayings.

She was the youngest of the children of Louis and Zelie Martin, born at Alençon, France in 1873, and she followed two sisters and several cousins into the religious life. Two other sisters also became religious. Therese was a lively, affectionate child, attached to her two sisters who entered Carmel before her and was the joy of her father after her mother's death.

Determined to enter the Carmel at Lisieux at the early age of fifteen, she even appealed personally to Pope Leo XIII for permission to enter underage, which she eventually did, in 1888, remaining the rest of her short life behind its walls. In spite of turmoil within the convent and political factions within the community, she concentrated on her spiritual growth, living the life of heroic regularity and fidelity, completely unnoticed by those around her. When, after her death, her autobiography burst upon the world, the most surprised readers were the members of her own community.

In 1893, she was appointed acting mistress of novices and she showed a mature wisdom and rare discretion far beyond her years. Hers was a fresh and vigorous expression of the essentials of holiness, her "Little Way," in the words of Pope Benedict XV, "contained the secret of sanctity for the entire world."

Eighteen months before her death, she showed signs of a tubercular condition and during her final illness was often fatigued, racked with pain, and plunged into interior darkness. She died on September 30, 1897, at twenty-four years of age. She was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925.


From Rev. Clifford STEVENS, The One Year Book of Saints, p. 298, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1989.