I was baptized Teresa Marie, with St. Thérèse of Lisieux as my patron. Saint Thérèse was a really easy saint for me to connect with as a child: she has so many stories from her childhood; her “little way” was quite understandable to me as a kid; my grandfather gave me a relic of her which I treasured; and when I was around twelve, I read herAutobiography for the first time.
But by the time I was twelve, I almost regretted having her as a patron. St. Thérèse was supposed to be my patron saint, but so many people claimed her as theirs, even though they didn’t share her name. Most of my sisters took her as their patron for Confirmation; when I was introduced as “Teresa” to many adults, they would talk about how much they loved St. Thérèse. I worried that, with all those other people who were so devoted to her, St. Thérèse would neglect me. After a while, I didn’t pray as much to St. Thérèse.
Then I started discerning a vocation to religious life, as a Daughter of St. Paul. At the time, the Daughters had a high school program where young women could complete their high school studies as they began to share the life of the sisters. I started to dream of entering the convent at the same age as Thérèse had—at age 15. With my parents so strict and cautious, I suspected it wasn’t likely, but I knew they had deep faith. I started praying very fervently to St. Thérèse and the new “Teresa” in my life—Mother Thecla Merlo, co-Foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul, who had also been baptized “Teresa.”
At several points, the possibility of entering at age 15 seemed very bleak. Imitating the confidence of the Little Flower, I told her flat out that, if it meant so much to her to enter the convent at 15, she really had no choice…she had to open the way for me to enter that year.
Not surprisingly (and I attribute this to God’s Providence, but most especially to St. Thérèse’s youthful and understanding heart), the obstacles cleared away and I entered the convent’s high school program two months before my sixteenth birthday.
When I entered the Daughters of Saint Paul, I discovered another magnificent patron in Saint Paul. Opposites at first glance, Saints Paul and Thérèse are really kindred spirits, sharing many common elements in their spirituality and an apostolic fervor that I could closely identify with. In St. Thérèse’s Autobiography, her climactic spiritual insight comes from a prayerful reading of Saint Paul’s famous passage, 2 Corinthians 13. Although their lives couldn’t have been more different (cloistered nun who never left her native country vs. the missionary who traveled the known world to preach Christ), their paths both led them to share their insights and relationship with Christ in writings that would change the world—Saint Paul by writing his letters in the New Testament, and St. Thérèse’s little Autobiography having such great influence that St. John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church. Both St. Thérèse and St. Paul have so greatly influence my life, and it’s one of my greatest joys to share about their lives, spirituality, and patronage with others.
I look back and laugh at how I was jealous and wanted to keep St. Thérèse for myself. Truly, both Thérèse and Paul are saints for everyone: with their eloquent love for Christ, their profound spirituality of trust and total surrender to the grace of God, and their ardor in sharing the Good News with the world. As you enjoy the stories of Thérèse below, I encourage you to think of the saints that have most influence your life. How can you share them with others?
Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP
Excerpted from Thérèse of Lisieux by Sr. Susan Helen Wallace, FSP, published by Pauline Books and Media.
“I Choose All!”
Zelie Martin documented many stories about Thérèse that help us to understand her developing personality. On May 10, 1877, just before Thérèse’s older sister Léonie’s fourteenth birthday, she wrote to Pauline that Léonie realized she was growing up. She gathered up her childhood treasures: doll clothes, fancy materials, and her doll resting on top of a basket. Céline and Thérèse eagerly eyed the basket as Léonie set it on the floor.:
“Here, my little sisters, choose,” Léonie said. “I’m giving you all this.” Thérèse wrote: Céline stretched out her hand and took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out mine saying: “I choose all!” and I took the basket without further ceremony.”9
Remembering the incident vividly as an adult religious, Thérèse was able to find in her reaction to that situation a response that would indicate how she would approach the whole of her life with God.
I understood . . . there were many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of our Lord to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: “My God, I choose all!” I don’t want to be a saint by halves, I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for “I choose all” that You will!10
Excerpted from Therese of Lisieux by Susan Helen Wallace, FSP, published by Pauline Books and Media.