Theresa, Saint (Theresa of Lisieux)

Theresa or Thérèse, Saint (Theresa of Lisieux), 1873–97, French Carmelite nun, one of the most widely loved saints of the Roman Catholic Church, b. Alençon. Her original name was Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, and her name in religion was Theresa of the Child Jesus; she is known as the Little Flower of Jesus. The youngest of five surviving daughters of St. Marie-Azélie Guérin and St. Louis Martin, who were a lacemaker and a jeweler and watchmaker, she became, as proclaimed by Pope Pius XI, “the greatest saint of modern times.” At the age of 15 she was permitted to follow two of her sisters into the Carmelite convent at Lisieux. There she spent the remaining nine years of her life and died of tuberculosis.

Many miracles are attributed to her, but perhaps the greatest miracle connected with her is that she became known at all. A simple nun in an obscure convent, she was remarkable only for her goodness. The holiness of her life so impressed her superior that Theresa was asked to write her spiritual autobiography. This has become one of the most widely read religious autobiographies. It is filled, as are her letters, with her message of seeking good with childlike simplicity. She exemplified the “little way”—achieving goodness by performing the humblest task and carrying out the most trivial action.

She was canonized in 1925, just 28 years after her death, and Lisieux has become a major place of pilgrimage. There are churches dedicated to St. Theresa throughout the Roman Catholic world, and meditations from her writings are read by many of the devout with the frequency of a manual of prayer. She is often represented in art with an armful of roses, because of her cryptic promise: “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses.” In 1997, Pope John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church. She is the patron of aviators and foreign missionaries. Feast: Sept. 30. Her parents were canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.

See her autobiography (tr. 1958; new tr. 1975, 3d. ed. 1996); selected correspondence in Maurice and Thérèse (ed. by P. V. Ahern, 1998); biographies by B. Ulanov (1965) and G. Gaucher (tr. 1993).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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