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Essay on Therese of Lisieux

Essay on Therese of Lisieux

In this paper I’m going to discuss the life of Therese of Lisieux. It is necessary not only to explore her personality, but it is also necessary to reflect my own opinion about the accomplishments and achievements of her life.

I want to begin my essay with the statement that was made by Therese of Lisieux (born Therese Martin) one day: “I cherish the hope that one day Thou wilt swoop down upon me and carry me up until I am lost, a willing victim, in the fiery heart of the furnace of Love.” (St. Therese, the Little Flower). These words allow us to understand that the young heart of Therese was full of love to Jesus Christ, and even dying in 24 years old she was thinking about holy things.

St. Therese of Lisieux was born on January 2, 1873 in France in the family of watchmaker Louis Martin. The family was very religious, and Therese and her sisters have absorbed the sincere faith of their parents from the early childhood (Reichardt, 2001). Therese’s mother died when she was four, and in five years later her elder sister, Pauline, who replaced Therese’s mother, went to the Carmelite convent, but after a few months, Therese was seriously ill. No one was hoping that she will recover, but Therese believed that God would save her, and always prayed before the image of the Virgin Mary (Frohlich, 2000). Thus, Therese Martin decided to devote her life to serving God, after her unexpected healing.

Therese was called a “little flower”, but she had a steel will. In 1889, aged 15 years, Therese has taken the first attempt to enter the convent, but the abbess refused to give her consent referring to girl’s young age. However, the girl went to the bishop, then when the bishop also said no, she decided to turn higher: soon the bishop, making sure that Therese’s desire is not a minute whim, changed his mind, and Therese was able to realize her dream.

Theresa died at age 24, and she has lived in seclusion about 10 years in a Carmelite convent (Dreyer, 2003). She has never been involved in missionary activity, did not created a religious order, and did not commit great deeds, but despite this, in 28 years after her death, interest to her personality has grown so much that Therese was canonized in response to the insistent demands of believers. Why it was so? Let us explore this issue with more details.

Discussing Therese’s accomplishments and achievements it is necessary to mention that she was constantly thinking about the way how a person can achieve holiness in own life. She did not want to be just a good one, but she wanted to be a saint. She thought that there must be a way for people who have lived their small, inconspicuous life, such as the one she had. She was looking for any opportunity to get to heaven, finding her own path, albeit a very short and straight, but totally new. The main concept in the thinking of St. Therese was a “small way” – she called in such words the way to achieve holiness, not involving the commission of the heroic acts or deeds in the name of faith.

In my opinion, observing the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, it is possible to say that she thought about her mission, and she felt both a calling of the priest and apostle in her heart. Martyrdom was the dream of her youth, and that dream has grown with her. True love to her neighbor gave Therese’s a key to her saint mission and she also understood that the Church has a heart, and this heart burns with love to people.

Thus, basing on the discussed above it is possible to say that Therese in her young age was not an ordinary girl, but she was an example of holy life, because everything that surrounded a small Therese in the convent became a kind of means to increase the divine love in her heart. All trifles and the hardships of everyday life became a sacrifice of love in Therese’s mind. And everything Therese has dreamed about became a true after her death, because exactly this young girl became the apostle of love of XX th century, the missionary and the teacher of the Church. The people called her the Little Saint or the Little Flower. The church has seen in her life and actions the word of God addressed to our time. In 1925, Therese of Lisieux was officially canonized, becoming “the most loved girl on the earth.”

In conclusion, many generations of Catholics admired this young saint, called the Little Flower, and her short life has inspired people far more than the volumes of different holy books written by theologians. Thus, Therese of Lisieux – is one of the saint- protectress of missionaries, but not because she ever engaged in missionary activities, but due to her special love to the missionary movement, as well as prayers and letters, which Therese has supported to different missions. Her life – is a good reminder to all of us who feel that nothing can be done in one or other situation that exactly “small” deeds help to build the kingdom of God.

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Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway

  • January 2, 1873 - August 28, 1877
  • Lisieux: Therese at Les Buissonnets, 1877-1886
  • The grace of Christmas 1886; the happy year 1887
  • Postulant: April 9, 1888 - January 10, 1889
  • Novice: January 10, 1889 - September 8, 1890
  • The hidden years: September 1890 to February 1893
  • Therese and Fr. Prou - Part 1 - Retreats at Carmel
  • Father Alexis Prou - Part 2 of 7
  • 1893 - July 1894
  • end of 1894: Celine enters; Therese finds her way
  • January 1895 to June 8, 1895
  • Offering of Myself to Merciful Love, June 9, 1895
  • June 1895 - March 21, 1896
  • Therese's trial against faith: Easter 1896-9/30/97
  • "L'affaire Leo Taxil" - Diana Vaughan - April 1897
  • June 1897 - writing of Manuscript C
  • Photographs of Therese with her fellow Carmelites
  • Infirmary: July 8, 1897 - September 30, 1897
  • Spirituality
  • Films about St. Therese of Lisieux
  • Search the site
  • —  Saint Therese Blog
  • Bookstore for St. Therese & the Martin Family
  • "Storm of Glory: Therese from 1897 to 2021"
  • Doctor of the Universal Church
  • Pilgrim Saint: Relics on Tour
  • "Saints Louis and Zelie Martin"
  • Léonie Martin, Disciple and Sister of St. Thérèse
  • Santa Teresa de Lisieux en Español
  • Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Therese
  • Pilgrimage to Therese's France
  • Saint Therese's secondary sources
  • Articles about St. Therese
  • Online abstracts of articles about St. Therese
  • References to studies of St. Therese
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The story of St. Therese's baptism on January 4, 1873

The baby Therese Martin, not yet two days old, was baptized at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption [raised to the rank of a minor basilica after her parents were beatified in 2008] on the evening of Saturday, January 4, 1873. 

Therese had been born at 11:30 at night on Thursday, January 2 in her parents’ house on rue Saint-Blaise in Alencon.  This was the girlhood home of her mother, Zelie, but Louis and Zelie had moved into the house only in 1871.  Thus, all eight of their older children had been baptized in the parish of St. Pierre de Montsort, where the Martins had lived for most of their marriage.  Only Therese was baptized at “Notre Dame,” happily also the church in which Sts. Louis and Zelie had been married in 1858.

Fr. Lucien-Victor Dumaine, who baptized St. Therese

In 1910 Fr. Dumaine testified that he knew Therese’s family “intimately” and that he “knew . . . Marie, Pauline, Leonie, and Celine very well.”  He had presided at the funeral of one of Therese’s little brothers.  (Since this funeral took place at the parish of St. Pierre de Montsort, he was probably asked to preside because of his close friendship with St. Louis Martin).  He added that he “heard the confessions of several members of the family.”  This point is corroborated by a letter Zelie’s sister Marie-Louise, Sister Marie-Dosithee at the Monastery of the Visitation at Le Mans, wrote to her niece, Therese’s eldest sister Marie, then 16, on February 16, 1876:

Let us now come to piety. I am pleased that you appreciate the grace of having been brought up in the Visitation convent, yet you understand however that it will only do you as much good as the use you make of it; what use is it to have been brought up in the Visitation convent if you only have moderate piety and yet that’s what this is; you are moderately devout. I understand that M. Dumaine finds it difficult to allow you to take communion twice a month, you’re not pious enough. If you were more pious, he would certainly allow you daily communion if you had the required disposition.

You may read this letter from Sister Marie-Dosithee to Marie Martin on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux. 

In 1915, testifying about Therese’s reputation for sanctity in the diocese of Seez, M. Dumaine stated that “ Several people have recommended themselves to my prayers for the very reason that I baptised the Servant of God myself.” He himself was devoted to Therese, prayed to her every day, and ardently wanted her cause to succeed.

Therese did not forget Fr. Dumaine.  On July 23-24, 1912, speaking of Pope St. Pius X, Celine (Sister Genevieve) wrote to Leonie (Sister Francoise-Therese):

The Holy Father has just sent Fr Dumaine, who baptised Thérèse, a photo of our little sister that a prelate gave him, with a blessing written on the back. There’s nothing extraordinary about this, but what is touching is that the Holy Father withdrew to pray to Thérèse for a few minutes before writing it, asking her to heal the priest who had baptised her. 1

The Pope prayed to Therese and inscribed the photo on July 8, 1912.  Fr. Dumaine was then suffering terribly from stomach cancer.  He survived until 1926, so he was still on earth when the little blonde baby he had baptized on that Saturday evening was canonized in 1925.

The baptismal ceremony

The baptistry of Notre Dame is located in an open “side-chapel” to the left as one enters the church.  The baptismal font in which Therese was baptized is there today.  St. Louis, of course, was present, but it seems that St. Zelie was not yet recovered enough to come.  Therese was carried into the church by none other than Louise Marais, the maid who tormented Leonie.  All Therese’s sisters were present.  Her eldest sister, Marie, then almost 13, was her godmother.  Therese's godfather was Paul-Albert Boul, a young man about Marie’s age who was the son of a friend of Louis Martin’s.  Because this young man had been away on Friday, Therese’s baptism was postponed till Saturday evening, a delay which caused Zelie anxiety. 

Later, an elaborate stained-glass window depicting Therese’s baptism was installed in the baptistry.  To the right of the font depicted in the window the young godfather and his father stand near Marie, the godparents holding the baptismal candle; little Celine is near Marie.  At the far left one glimpses the dark-haired Pauline.   Although both M. Dumaine and Leonie testified that Leonie was present, and she signed the baptismal certificate along with the others, I can find no trace of the blonde Leonie, or of any fourth sister, in the window.

An altar and a statue of St. Therese were also added to the baptistry, with a plaque marking the saint's baptism.

The christening robe

A substantial portion of Therese’s christening robe is displayed above the font.  But Therese was not the first to wear it: it had been given to Leonie by her generous godmother, Leonie Gilbert, later Mme. Jacques Tifenne.  For the full story of the robe, please see my article “ What is the mystery of Leonie Martin’s christening robe? ”

Celine wrote two letters about the gift of this christening robe.  On March 31, 1929 she wrote to Leonie:

Did you know that we’ve promised to give Notre-Dame church half of Thérèse’s baptism robe, on the condition that the awful stained-glass window in the baptistery is changed? Mgr Pasquet and the archpriest of N.-D. have reluctantly accepted our generous sacrifice. – I have therefore already divided up the robe. We’ll give the most beautiful half to Alençon, that is to say, the front of the dress with the pretty little bodice, and we’re keeping the back of the dress and little cloak. 2

I do not know whether any changes were, in fact, made to the stained-glass window in the baptistry, but it seems that the first window installed incurred the Carmelites’ displeasure.

On January 24, 1934 Celine wrote to Leonie again, seeming to say that she was now going to give the back of the dress, not the front:

I’ve offered half of Thérèse’s baptism robe (the back of the skirt only), displayed in a pretty case, to the Baptistery in Alençon. It will be her gift to his Lordship, the Bishop of Séez, for [the Jubilee] on 8 th May. We’re already preparing for it; it’s not too early. 3

[The reference is to Octave-Louis Pasquet, appointed bishop of Seez in 1926.  This Jubilee could have been the 50 th anniversary of Therese’s First Communion, celebrated on May 8, 1934].

Therese's baptismal names

Therese was baptized Marie-Francoise-Therese.  All the Martin daughters had the first name Marie; Francoise was to honor St. Francis de Sales, who greatly influenced the Order of the Visitation, which Zelie’s sister had joined; and, when she was  expecting Therese, Zelie wrote “This child, like my last one [the little Marie-Melanie-Therese, who died at seven weeks] will be named Therese.”

Although Therese's name in religion was "Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face," she remembered her baptismal names and used them on solemn occasions, for example, when she signed her "Offering of Myself as a Victim of Holocaust to Merciful Love" and her "Consecration to the Holy Face." 4  

In 2008, when I made my first visit to Notre Dame in Alencon, where a Pontifical Mass was celebrated the day before the beatification of Louis and Zelie, I prayed at the font in which Therese was baptized and had a deep sense of how much life-giving grace God has poured out on the Church and the world through Therese.  I hope that many of the pilgrims who visit Notre Dame will renew their baptismal vows and, if they come as a family, invite their children to renew their own vows. 

January 4, 2023 will be the 150 th anniversary of the administration of this great sacrament to the "Doctor of the Science of Love," as Pope St. John Paul II called St. Therese.  May we each live out the call to holiness we have received in baptism, and may our society reflect our corporate response to the universal call to holiness.

1  Letter from Sister Marie Dosithee to Marie Martin, February 6, 1876 on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux (accessed January 4, 2022).  

2  Letter from Celine (Sister Genevieve) to Leonie (Sister Francoise-Therese), March 31, 1929 on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux (accessed January 4, 2022).

3  Letter from Celine (Sister Genevieve) to Leonie (Sister Francoise-Therese), January 24, 1934 on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux (accessed January 4, 2022).

4  The Prayers of Saint Therese of Lisieux , tr. Aletheia Kane, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1997, pp. 53-74 ("Offering of myself as a victim of Holocaust to Merciful Love") and pp. 91-98 ("Act of Consecration to the Holy Face").  In footnote 2 to the latter, the editor notes that Therese used the initials of her own baptismal name and of the other two nuns who made this Consecration, saying "[Listing the baptismal names] is customary for the taking of vows and their annual renewal.  Using it here confers on the Consecration a solemn character, which engages each sister's whole Christian being."  (p. 95).

All rights to this article and its illustrations are reserved.  To reproduce it, please apply for written permission. 

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