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Lives of Saints

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Born: January 2nd, 1873     Died: September 30th, 1897
Feast Day: October 1st

What she said

"Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be -- and becoming that person."

What the world was like

In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse said, "we live in an age of inventions." She was quite right. During the 1870s, the decade in which Thérèse was born, the Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. During that same decade the American Thomas Edison patented the phonograph -- a record player -- and staged the first public demonstration of an electric light bulb. In the 1880s a French engineer named Gustave Eiffel designed the iron framework that holds up France's great gift to the United States of America, the Statue of Liberty. A few years later Eiffel built another amazing structure: the graceful iron tower in Paris, France, that bears his name. During the 1890s a German scientist named Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays, and two French brothers named Auguste and Louis Lumière began showing motion pictures in Paris. Finally, in 1897, the year of Thérèse's death, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi patented a system of wireless telegraphy that was an early example of what we know today as radio.

Who she was

Thérèse Martin was born in France, in the town of Alençon. Both of Thérèse's parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, originally had hoped to enter the religious life. Instead, they fell in love and married. Their five daughters -- Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline, and the youngest, Thérèse -- all became religious sisters.

Sadly, Thérèse's mother died when Thérèse was only four years old. Sixteen-year-old Pauline Martin took on the loving task of mothering her four sisters and caring for their father. A few years later, when Pauline was twenty-one, she decided to enter the Carmelite convent in the town of Lisieux. Shortly after that, Marie and Léonie Martin also left home to become religious sisters.

In 1888, when Thérèse was fifteen, she also asked permission to join the Carmelites. But the superior of the convent said no; Thérèse was still too young. Then, in the spring of that same year, Thérèse, her father, and her sister Céline made a pilgrimage to Rome. In an audience with Pope Leo XIII, Thérèse boldly asked the pope to help her follow her vocation to become a Carmelite. The pope referred the determined girl's plea back to the Carmelite superior in France. To Thérèse's great joy, the superior now said yes, and Thérèse entered the convent at Lisieux. A few years later, after the death of their father, Thérèse's sister Céline also became a Carmelite.

Thérèse spent the rest of her short life as a Carmelite. During those years she devoted herself to what she came to call her "little way" to holiness. She led a simple and quiet life of prayer. Her heart was filled with love and trust in God. When Thérèse died, she was only twenty-four years old. But she left behind a series of journals in which she had recorded her spiritual autobiography. After her death these writings were edited by Thérèse's sister Pauline and published as The Story of a Soul.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was declared a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1925. She is also known as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and as the Little Flower. In 1997, one hundred years after her death, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church.

What this saint means to us

In 1997, in an apostolic letter about Thérèse, Pope John Paul II noted that she was the youngest Doctor of the Church and the one closest to us in time. The pope also pointed out that Thérèse reached a mature holiness while still a young person. Because of this, Thérèse is a teacher whose words and example are especially effective for today's young people. They, like Thérèse, must be leaders and witnesses to the Gospel for new generations.

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