The Saint of the Little Way

Saint Therese of Lisieux

Feast Day: 1st October

In 1898 'The Story of a Soul' was published in France and quickly became a best-seller in several languages. It was the autobiography of a girl who spent her life in an enclosed convent and died at the early age of 24 after a quiet, obscure and uneventful life. Yet the little nun who lived it, has a great deal to teach the world.

Therese Martin was born in 1873 in Alencon in Normandy. She was the youngest child in a happy and loving family. Her mother was a daily Mass-goer and took the children on frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. But when Therese was only four years old her mother died and the family moved to Lisieux so that the children could be brought up by an aunt. Educated at home by her father and sister until she was eight years old, Therese was taught by the Benedictine nuns of Lisieux, and from an early age talked about becoming a nun.

When she was 15 she and her father joined a pilgrimage to Rome and, kneeling before Pope Leo XIII to receive his blessing, she found the courage to ask his permission for her to enter Carmel but was told she must be patient.

Some people may say that the life of an enclosed nun must be an easy option and an escape from problems and responsibilities but Therese's story denies this view. She later said that the entered Carmel to save souls and pray for priests, and she did this by accepting suffering.

Adopting the name Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, she left the freedom of a happy home and entered a strictly enclosed community with a harsh daily routine of prayer, work and contemplation. But community life is not always comfortable and Therese experienced difficulties with several of the sisters: some were spiteful, there was mutual dislike of others and the Mother Superior was unnecessarily severe. For a long time she found no inner peace nor consolation, though she continued to pray fervently.

Finding her own secret 'Little Way' of coping with life, each mundane task she performed and each unkind word she received was offered up as prayer, without complain nor retaliation. Whatever the work she was given she did it for the love of God and for the conversion of sinners.

When she was 20 Therese became assistant novice mistress but the following year became ill with tuberculosis which progressed rapidly. As well as her physical suffering she had to endure the agony of isolation, fear and doubt. She would have liked to serve on the foreign mission but instead she offered her suffering to help some priest who might be struggling through appalling conditions to bring the sacraments to his people. Therese has been made co-patron of the foreign missions along with St. Francis Xavier because of this devotion.

Therese died in 1897, aged 24, having achieved sainthood through her courage, patience and self-sacrifice and by doing small things with love. Her book, written at the request of her sister, earned her the title of Doctor of the Church.

We cannot all be great preachers, missionaries or martyrs, but like Therese we can make our ordinary daily work an offering to God. Her way is not an easy way but it is not beyond our capabilities. We pray today that Saint Therese of Lisieux will help us to follow in her footsteps.