St. Thérèse was born in Alencon in France on 2nd January, 1873. She was the last of nine children, four of whom had already died. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother ran a small lace making business. Her mother spoke of her at the age of three as lively, alert, intelligent but sensitive and nervous.
The death of her mother of cancer when Thérèse was four brought about a big change in her life which lasted until she was fifteen. Writing about this time she says, “my happy disposition changed. I became timid and retiring. I was shy in the presence of strangers and one look was enough to reduce me to tears.” She was very close to her elder sister Pauline whom she called her second mother. When she was ten years of age, Pauline entered the convent and shortly afterwards Thérèse became very ill experiencing what could be called a complete nervous breakdown. She had terrifying hallucinations imagining all kinds of monsters attacking her. Fearing for her life, her family prayed in desperation before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was in her room. Thérèse too turned imploringly towards Our Lady. Suddenly the statue seemed to come to life. Our Lady smiled down on her and she was immediately cured.
On Christmas night 1886, her sensitiveness, self-absorption and timidity were dramatically healed. There was a French custom that young children got gifts in their shoes when they came home after midnight Mass. As she collected her gifts and was going upstairs she overheard her father say to her sister Celine, “Fortunately this will be the last year”. At this she was ready to burst into tears but then something happened. Jesus changed her heart and instead of a flood of tears she came down the stairs with confidence and with a smile on her face and embraced her father. She realized that God had accomplished in one instant what she had tried to do for the last ten years on her own; “I felt charity enter into my soul and the need to forget myself” She was no longer a slave to fear and what other people thought about her. Now she wanted to forget about herself and help others.
Thérèse entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux at the age of sixteen and took the name Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She spent the next nine years of her life in the convent living faithfully as a Carmelite sister doing ordinary everyday things.
On Holy Thursday night 1896 she began to cough up blood, the first sign of tuberculosis which was eventually to kill her. The next 18 months were times of great mental, physical and spiritual agony. The medical treatment at the time was very primitive by modern standards, with no pain killers being used. Worse still was the spiritual agony she went through. The God who, before she entered the convent, seemed so close to her now seemed to disappear and all was darkness. She could only hold on to God with blind faith but could not feel his presence.
The end came for her on 30th September, 1897, at the young age of twenty-four. As she lay dying she held on to a crucifix. Her last words were “Oh! I love him… my God, I love you.”
After her death, everything in the convent went back to normal. One nun commented that there was nothing to say about Thérèse. It was the publication of her writings put together by her sister Pauline, under the title of “The story of a Soul” that changed all that and showed there was much to say about her, so much so that Pius X called her the “greatest Saint of modern times”.
She was canonized on 17th May, 1925, by Pope Pius XI, proclaimed Patroness of the Missions in 1927 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.
Her ‘Little Way’ of trusting in Jesus to make her holy and relying on small daily acts done with love instead of great deeds appeals to thousands of Catholics and others throughout the world who are trying to achieve holiness in their daily lives. Along with St Francis Xavier she is Patron of the Missions, not because she ever went on the missions (she didn’t) but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she wrote in support of missionaries, encouraging them in their daily toil and sufferings. This should encourage anyone who thinks they can do nothing. The Little Flower teaches us that little things keep God’s kingdom growing.
Before she died she said, “when I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens. I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” This is why so many pray to her today and receive their own particular rose, or answer to their prayers (offered through her intercession).
Prayers to Saint Thérèse
St Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Teach us to follow your way of confidence and trust.
Help us to realize that a father’s love
watches over us each day of our lives.
Obtain for us the light
to see in sorrow as in joy,
in trials and in peace
the loving hand of our Father.
Give us your faith and trust
so that we may walk
in darkness as in light
holding fast to the way of love,
knowing as you did that everything is grace.
remember your promise to do good on earth.
Shower down your roses on all who pray to you.
Obtain for me from God
the favour I seek from His infinite goodness.
(Here mention your intention)
St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us.