Also known by her widely popular nickname ‘The Little Flower of Jesus’, Therese of Lisieux was a Roman Catholic nun who is widely respected in modern times. The simple life she led and her very practical approach to the spirituality brought her a large fan following among the Christian devotees, but sadly, only after her demise. She dedicated her life to the service of Jesus Christ at a tender age of 15, before her tragic death at 24. In the 9 years of her service, her popularity grew among other nuns at Caramel and she became an influential preacher. Her book ‘Story of a Soul’ is a biographical that made sure her popularity reached the far wide corners of the world after her death. Her thoughts about love and impact of acts of selflessness resonated well with the readers, and despite the fact that she never wanted to be in the limelight, she earned the great honour of becoming a Doctor of Catholic Church. She is only one of the three women who have achieved the honour and also the youngest person ever to do so.
Childhood & Early Life
Marie Francoise-Therese Martin was born in Alencon, France on 2nd January, 1973 in a very devoted catholic environment. Her mother was a lacemaker while her father was a watchmaker. Therese grew up in a highly religious household and her childhood was the time which brought her closer to Jesus Christ on a spiritual level.
Her parents had a total of 9 children, but only 5 survived, including Therese and all five of them were girls. Her parents prepared all her siblings to take up nun-hood later in their lives.
In her memoir, Therese wrote that the early days of her life were all full of joy and happiness, and their family was quite content with whatever they had, and the flow of income was also steady. However, it all came to a bitter halt, when her mother died when Therese was just four. Her father was unable to take care of five young daughters and moved to Therese’s maternal uncle place at Lisieux, Normandy.
Therese further wrote in her biography that she was intensely shattered by the demise of her mother as they shared a close bond. The Martin family was onto itself now and all the sisters looked after each other. When Therese’s older sisters came of age, they joined the religion to become prioress and Therese, who was still too young to walk the path of religion, wanted to follow her older sisters. She was nine years of age then when her desire intensified to follow a life which was solely in service to Jesus.
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What led her strengthening beliefs with subject to the existence of god was an event which took place just before her 14th birthday, on a Christmas Eve. In her book, she referred the event as ‘My Conversion’. She said that on that night Jesus came to her as a baby and filled her dull life with an unfathomably peaceful light. She says that she was still devastated from the untimely death of her mother and when that event occurred, she was cured of every other negative belief she held close to herself.
Although she was too young to become a Carmelite, she expressed her desire in front of her father to become one when she was 15. The authorities and the Bishop rejected her requests and told her that she must try when she gets older and that there was no place for a girl as young as her. However, her father understood his daughter’s sadness and took her along with her sister Celine, to Notre-Dame des Victoires, Paris and later, the family embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome, where she got to meet the Pope who said that if the god wills it, her wish will be fulfilled.
She prayed intensely about her wish and upon coming back home, she didn’t have to wait too long for the good news, as in April 1888, Therese got the desired permission to go to Carmel at Lisieux to join her sisters in the service of god. Although she was just 15, she impressed everyone with her dedication to the cause and everybody became fond of her. She participated in each and every prayer, religious practice, and the reading of scriptures. She started signing the letters as ‘Therese of Child Jesus’.
In September 1890, despite being down with fever, she took her official vows; she was allowed to follow all the rituals, but wasn’t allowed to fast. At the age of 20, she was selected to assist the novice mistress and during the 23rd year of her life, on being pushed by the prioress, Therese began noting down everything she thought about Christianity and how it had impacted her all through her life. She turned out to be a skilled writer and in the first few pages of the memoir ‘The Story of a Soul’, she wrote extensively about her childhood and early days, focusing hard on the event of her mother’s demise, which changed her as a person.
Therese did charity, without showing it and never spoke ill of anyone and was the most loved nun in the entire establishment. If she heard any of the sisters bad mouthing her, she would just smile as a response and eventually, the hate towards her would transform into love. Although she was perpetually sick during most of her later years at Caramel, she didn’t let anybody know of it. Later in her book, she wrote that it was all a part of her spiritual journey as the agony she suffered due to her illness made her a more compassionate and kind person.
Upon her father’s death in 1894, the remaining two sisters of Therese, Celine and Leonie entered the Carmel and were among the first ones to know about the terminal sickness of Therese. Therese, by then too weak due to tuberculosis, spent most of her time reading and writing and she continued on that path until she died. She revealed that she had been suffering from the ailment for many years, and that it was a miracle that she lived this long, for Tuberculosis was considered a deadly disease back in those times.
At one night in the year 1896, on Good Friday, the complications from tuberculosis worsened and Therese suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage. And even though the disease was in its final stages, she wrote many letters and kept working on her book. During her letter correspondence with a few Caramel sisters of Hanoi, China, she was invited to their place to bless them with her presence. Therese wanted to go but her health didn’t allow her.
On 30th September of 1897, Therese dragged her final breathe and the very last words that came out her mouth were, ‘My god, I love thee.’ The prioress at Caramel, Marie de Gonzague, wrote about her that during all the time she was with Caramel, she was always lovely, always helping others and nothing compared in the world than Therese’s love for god. A small edition of ‘Story of a Soul’ was published a year after her death and spread so much that it got attention of the pope and she got canonized 28 years post her death in 1925.
Her teachings were widely loved and known as ‘the little way’, and Pauline, her sister, revised the manuscript written by Therese. In 1925, 28 years after her death, the pope adorned her with Sainthood and by then, almost 2000 copies of her book were in circulation in different convents. A number of churches and schools were built in her name all around the world, and Therese remains one of the most widely known preachers of Christianity and a beautiful soul who not only followed Christianity, but did the work of god by spreading love and affection.