Saints of the Day – Teresa of the Child (Infant) Jesus

Saint Thérèse of LisieuxArticle

(also known as Thérèse of Lisieux, Marie Francoise Martin)

Born in Alençon, France, January 2, 1873; died in Lisieux, Normandy, France, on September 30, 1897; canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, who in 1927 declared patron of foreign missions (together with Saint Francis Xavier); in 1997, she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.

“I had offered myself . . . to the Child Jesus as His little plaything. I told Him not to use me as a valuable toy . . . but like a little ball of no value. . . . He let His little ball fall to the ground and He went to sleep. What did He do during His gentle sleep and what became of the abandoned ball? Jesus dreamed He was still playing with His toy, leaving it and taking it up in turns, and then, having seen it roll quite far, He pressed it to His heart, no longer allowing it to ever go far from His little hand.”

– Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Thérèse was the ninth child of Louis Martin, a watchmaker, and Azélie-Marie Geurin, a maker of point d’Alençon lace. She was baptized Marie-Fran‡oise- Thérèse. Her mother died in 1877 when Thérèse was five, and the father moved the family to Lisieux, where the children could be overseen by their aunt.

Thérèse’s two older sisters became Carmelite nuns at Lisieux. When she was 15, Thérèse told her father that she was so much devoted to Jesus that she wished to do the same but the Carmelites and her bishop thought that she was too young. A few months later during a pilgrimage to Rome for the jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, she met the pope. As she knelt before him, she broke the rule of silence and asked him, “In honor of your jubilee, allow me to enter Carmel at fifteen. . . .” The pope was impressed by her fervor, but upheld the decision to make her wait.

At the end of the year, she was received in the Carmel and took the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Her father suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for three years. Despite her fragile health, she lived the austere life faithfully. At 22, she was appointed assistant novice mistress, although in fact she fulfilled the duties of the novice mistress. After her father died in 1894, the fourth sister joined the convent.

Her prioress Mother Agnes (her blood-sister Pauline) requested the she write her autobiography, L’histoire d’une âme (The story of a soul). She began in 1894 to write the story of her childhood, and in 1897, after finishing it the previous year, she was ordered by the new prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, to tell of her life in the convent. Both were combined in the final book, which was revised and circulated to all the Carmelite houses.

Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography was three sections written specifically to her sister Pauline, her sister Marie, and her prioress. It was edited by Pauline (Sister Agnes) and made to appear as though written to her prioress. Highly edited book sold without notation until 1956. In 1952 the unedited manuscripts were published in their original form. The first English version, translated by Ronald Knox, appeared in 1958 under the title Autobiography of a saint. Thérèse was childlike, not polished, and she was sentimental. Surprisingly, Thérèse found it hard to say the rosary, which should be a comfort to those saints-in-the-making who find it difficult, too.

The appeal of the book was immediate and astonishing: It had an instant appeal in every language into which it was translated. Her “little way” of searching for simplicity and perfection in everyday tasks became a model for ordinary people. The saint’s nine years in the convent were uneventful and ‘ordinary,’ such as could be paralleled in the lives of numberless other young nuns: the daily life of prayer and work, faults of pride and obstinacy to be overcome, a certain moodiness to be fought, inward and outward trials to be faced. Sister Thérèse stuck bravely to her ‘little way’ of simple trust in and love for God.

Afflicted with tuberculosis, Thérèse hemorrhaged but endured her illness with patience and fortitude. She wished to join the Carmelites at Hanoi in Indochina at their invitation, but her illness became worse. She moved into the infirmary in 1897 and died at the age of 24. Her last words were, “I love him. My God I love you.” Since her death she has worked innumerable miracles, and her cultus has spread throughout the world. She had become the most popular saint of modern times: Thérèse had shown innumerable people that sainthood is attainable by anybody, however, obscure, lowly, untalented, by doing the small things and discharging daily duties in a perfected spirit of love for God. Her popularity was so great that a large church was built in Lisieux to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims to her shrine.

In contemplating her death, Thérèse said, “I will let fall a shower of roses,” meaning favors through her intercession. From this we get the novena of Saint Thérèse which requires the praying of 24 Our Fathers each day for nine days in honor of the 24 years of life that God granted the saint. It is said that when the prayer has been heard and answered, the petitioner will receive a rose from the heavenly garden as a sign. For this reason, she is called “the Little Flower of Jesus.”

Thérèse’s attraction is her utter simplicity. She was no scholar; no great student of the Bible or the Fathers. She simply longed to be a saint, as she believed her person could. “In my little way,” she wrote, “are only very ordinary things. Little souls can do everything that I do.”

She was full of fun. She drew a coat of arms for herself and Jesus, surmounted with her initials M.F.T., and the divine ones I.H.S. She made superbly innocent and happy jokes. She recorded that she would pretend she was at Nazareth in the Holy Family’s home. “If I am offered salad, cold fish, wine or anything with a strong flavor, I give that to good Saint Joseph. I give the warm dishes and the ripest fruits to the Holy Virgin. I give the infant Jesus soup, rice, and jam. But if I am offered a bad meal, I say gaily to myself, ‘My little girl, today it is all yours’.”

Thérèse was a happy saint. Even as she suffered pain – physical and emotional (being scolded for pulling up flowers rather than weeds in the garden) – she always thanked God for everything (Attwater, von Balthasar, Benedictines, Bentley, Day, Delaney, Gorres, Robo, Sackville-West, Sheppard, White).

In art, Saint Thérèse is a Discalced Carmelite holding a bouquet of roses or with roses at her feet. She is the patron saint of foreign missions (due to her prayers for and correspondence with missions), all works for Russia, France, florists and flower growers (White); aviators, and, in 1944, was named copatroness of France with Saint Joan of Arc (Delaney).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 July 2020. Web. 4 August 2020. <>