Born: Jan. 2nd, 1873
Died: Sept. 30th, 1897
FEast: Oct. 1st
HIV/AIDS, France, Russia, Australia, Breast cancer, orphans, missions, gardens
Therese was born to parents Louis and Zelie Martin in France in 1873. Both her parents were very devout Catholics who had separately considered joining religious life before they met each other. Louis was a watchmaker and Zelie a lace maker with her own business that soon became so profitable that Louis left his job and went into business with her. The two had 9 children, 3 of which did not survive infancy and one that passed at age 5. Of the surviving five daughters, Therese was the youngest.
Another tragedy struck when Therese was 4, and her mother passed away of breast cancer. Though Louis had spent most of his life in the region they lived, he moved the family to Lisieux where his brother-in-law's family lived. He sold the lace business and bought a home for the family.
Therese began school when she was 8, and though she did relatively well in class, she was bullied because she was very emotional and sensitive. She would often hide and cry, clinging to her closest sister, Celine. To make matters worse, her oldest sister Pauline who had become a "second mother" to her, entered a monastery as a cloistered nun, so she would never be able to return to the family. Therese was devastated, and soon suffered panic and anxiety attacks, as well as many illnesses. A combined effort of receiving letters from Pauline plus a vision she'd had that a statue of St. Mary had smiled at her helped to cure her for a time, until her next two sisters entered a monastery as well and she was left at home alone with her father and Celine.
Therese called Christmas Eve of 1886 a complete conversion for her life, however. When she overheard her father comment on her being too old for a gift-giving tradition, rather than suffering scrupulous sensitivity like she normally would have, Therese felt moved to act instead as if she'd never heard, pretending to still be amused and thankful to make things easier for her increasingly tired and lonely father. She described the experience as healing and freeing, and felt that she'd matured enough to enter the convent herself, now, since she'd desired to do so for a time.
A year later, on the anniversary of her "conversion", Therese asked her father if she could enter the convent. Both ended up crying over the thought and her father's refusal, but he told her she could do so when she was older. The convent refused Therese anyway, telling her she was too young to enter at 15. Not long after, Louis took his youngest two daughters on a pilgrimage during which they were given an audience with the Pope. Though they weren't supposed to speak, Therese could not help but ask him for permission to enter the convent! Though she had to be dragged out by guards, her bravery and determination had been witnessed by many and she was allowed into the convent soon after.
Therese describes that it brought her much peace. She was reunited with her sisters and a cousin, and even found a priest who had also struggled with scrupulosity and understood her past. However, life there was not quite as she expected. Many of the women were from upper class families and had fickle temperaments, and she even endured more bullying when it was discovered she was not very skilled at many of the chores or crafts the Sisters participated in. They also poked fun at her size and shape. Even more distressing for her, her father's health continued to decline, and he suffered more strokes. He also had hallucinations that caused him to disappear from his home, and once, to pick up a gun as if going into battle. He was committed to an asylum, and it broke her heart that she could not visit him. She had to endure gossip and rumors spread about him on top of that, even from people she had once thought were friends.
When Pauline became the leader of the group, Therese was asked to remain a novice to make sure the other Sisters would not be jealous that the Martin sisters were taking over the convent. Though it was a sacrifice, Therese, at this time, was developing what later became known as her "Little Way" - involving patience, small acts of goodness, taking the fault for any wrong when accused, and not trying to take noble, high positions. Though her father passed away at this time, Celine now was able to enter the convent. The sisters almost outnumbered the other members, then, and so when a Sister was put in charge who was not a fan of the Martins, she made Therese a permanent novice.
On Good Friday of 1896, Therese coughed up blood for the first time and discovered she had tuberculosis. Though she tried to hide it from the other Sisters, she became so sick that it was obvious, and she even had to pass up a missionary trip she had been invited on despite the fact that it was something she had always longed to do.
She was in incredible pain for over a year, but took the time and energy to write down all her ideas and thoughts on her spirituality, encouraged by her sisters to do so. She managed the pain with such cheerfulness and hid it so well, however, that some thought she was only pretending to be ill, until she passed away at the age of 24.
Therese was canonized after many people found her writing to be inspiring, and later was declared a Doctor of the Church. In addition, her parents became the first and only couple to be canonized together, and her sister Leonie is in the process of canonization, currently a Servant of God.
one thing you were so good at that we need much more of currently: taking the high road. it’s so easy to brag, blame, condemn, yell, speak over others, make excuses, raise fusses, lose our patience, show off, and ignore. Help us to know when these things, if ever, are necessary, and give us the patience and grace to avoid them when they are not.
Therese's expression, I hoped, in this icon, would be another that comes across differently depending on how the viewer is feeling. On some days, she might seem peaceful - content, enlightened. On others, it may look as if she is doing all she can to keep in her frustration, her sadness, her confusion, and her emotional outbursts. Her tattoo is roses - her special symbol - and she wears glasses symbolic of her writing. She also wears a sweater, to shield against the cold while fighting her many illnesses.