Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
of the Holy Face
"St. Therese of Lisieux at School," the first of four articles written in 1934 for "The Far East" by a Benedictine nun who taught Therese
With thanks to the Missionary Society of St. Columban, I have the joy of introducing a series of four articles about the school life and First Communion of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, written by one of the Benedictine nuns who taught Thérèse. These articles were commmissioned by "The Fast East" in 1934 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Thérèse's First Communion (May 8, 1884). We present them in honor of the 130th anniversary of Thérèse's First Communion; the anniversary fell on May 8, 2014.
- Read about how I discovered "The Little Flower at School" articles in 2014
- View an image of the original of the first article, Part I of "The Little Flower at School," exactly as published in The Far East in 1934
- Download a print-friendly, illustrated PDF of Part I of "The Little Flower at School."
This first article sketches the history of the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame du Pré, the religious community of women which operated a boarding school for girls at Lisieux when the Martin family moved ot Lisieux in 1877. Many students boarded at the Abbey, and Thérèse's sister Léonie was among them. Her sister Céline entered the school as a day student in 1879, and Thérèse entered as a day student in October 1881. The article describes the layout of the Abbey and sketches Thérèse during her early days there.
The Little Flower at School
Memories of St. Thérèse Patroness of Missions,
as a Pupil of the Benedictine Nuns in Lisieux . . .
The First in a Series of Articles Written for The Far East
by One of Her Teachers
Thérèse Martin--St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, now known by the whole world, which loves, admires and invokes her with such confidence--entered the boarding school of the Abbey of Notre Dame du Pré as a day-boarder [a day student], when classes were resumed in October, 1881. She was then eight and a half years old.
She was not an entire stranger there, her sisters Léonie and Céline having come two years earlier. When feast days were being celebrated at the school – the feast day of Mother Prioress, for instance, or of Mother Directress, Prize Day, and so on, - little Thérèse would be invited. And how pleased the two older girls were to bring their beloved young sister, whose charming ways arrested attention immediately. Thus this little girl found an opportunity to become somewhat acquainted with her future teachers and companions; happily this was to help in simplifying her first steps in school life – naturally rather different from what the dear child, who was quite timid, had known in the bosom of her family at Les Buissonets.
At that age what a beautiful, winsome child our Thérèse was! A real little angel, with her long, fair, golden curls, framing such a sweet face; her pure brow, her clear eyes, her indescribable smile . . . With all that, a calmness – one might almost say, gravity – of manner was joined in her to a childlike grace, in perfect harmony.
This last note is very characteristic of Thérèse. It struck you at once, so much so that I, who now write these lines, find this first impression still remaining with me, though more than fifty years have since passed. It has only become stronger with the lapse of time, for, a senior pupil then, I was later on to be her teacher as a Benedictine nun . . . At home, moreover, was she not called “Little Queen”?
The Abbey School
But let us not anticipate. Is it not more fitting to give here a very brief account of the monastery of the Benedictines of Notre Dame du Pré and of their school? We shall then return to our illustrious pupil.
In the early years of the eleventh century, the Countess Lesceline, widow of Count William of Exmes, has the unfinished tassel of Epinay, begun by her husband, changed into a monastery. The church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in 1011. Some thirty years later the community, harassed by the people of a neighboring town, had to leave. The Countess brought them to the estate of St. Désir, which her relative Duke William of Normandy [William the Conqueror of England] rented to her.
We shall not follow the history of the abbey through the centuries. Let us say only this: that it was a shining center of piety, where life was lived in peace and joy of soul; where – as even now – the praise of God, the Opus Dei, was sung with fervor; where heart expanded in charity, under the rule of the great abbesses who followed one upon another up to the Revolution. When that terrible storm broke, the abbey was being governed by one of the most famous of these, Madame de Créqui. By her zeal and piety this wonderful woman succeeded in keeping the community together and it is thanks to her devotion and truly maternal care that it still exists. In 1808 the Sisters succeeded in restoring part of their monastery, in the greatest poverty . . .
Frequenting this hallowed cloister, saturated with age-old memories, was an experience that assuredly did not fail to impress Thérèse as a child. This mystic, inquisitive little soul, so fond of medieval tales and already dreaming of giving herself to God, must have been affected by the thought that so many holy nuns had lived in the shadow of these walls, to which, for her, some mystery clung. For there was mystery in this old cloister with its high vaulted roof, worn by time: in the long history that lost itself in the mist of ages. Then there was the spell of the great abbesses whose distinguished names she caught occasionally from the lips of her teachers: Madame de Matignon, Madame de Valanglart, Madame de Créqui . . .
But it is time to pass on and speak of the boarding school. The pupils did not usually come to the monastic section. They were allowed there only on certain occasions, all the more notable because they were rare.
From the very beginning the monastery was concerned with education.
For the early periods there are no records. It is only in 1686 that there is mention of a boarding school properly so called. Many young ladies of high rank were educated in the abbey during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Some details of the elaborate accessories that they brought to their boarding-school life would perhaps make us smile. It was the era of Louis XVI, of the curled and powdered coiffure, and the customs of the time were reflected in the school.
The Revolution did not keep the nuns from secretly continuing this work of education. Although dispersed, like so many others, they were able to assemble in little groups on the outskirts of Lisieux . . .
When the storm had passed, the Abbess and the Sisters bought back the monastery buildings, at the cost of immense sacrifice and re-opened the school.
The present building had been begun by Madame de Créqui in 1786. Thanks to the generosity of Louis XVI, of Queen Marie Antoinette and of Madame Elizabeth, the large structure with its imposing outline had risen pretty rapidly. Today the work interrupted by the Revolution remains unfinished.
One can see, however, from the photograph what a fine appearance the building has, though it is somewhat austere-looking. Within, there is nothing sombre, however. Air and sunlight stream in through the many high windows opening out on the fields surrounding the monastery and on Mount Cassin, the pleasant hill which is its property.
Inside the School
On the ground floor are the rectory and the recreation room for wintertime, the portress’ office and the cloak rooms, separated by a large carriage entrance. On the mezzanine floor are the parlors and the oratory of the Children of Mary; the latter, since the beatification of St. Thérèse, has become of oratory of her Souvenirs, which pilgrims are so fond of visiting.
On the second floor are the large classrooms where the professors had their classes, the office of the Directress and the small classrooms where the teaching Sisters gave special tuition; the music and drawing room. An amply proportioned corridor, at the end of which, in a large niche, a statue of the Blessed Virgin stands on a pedestal, gives access to these various rooms. How often little Thérèse knelt there to pray to her loving Mother!
On the third floor, running the whole length of the building, are the dormitories where the boarders’ white beds are ranged in line.
The two playgrounds are extensive. In the center of one of them stands an immense chestnut-tree, surrounded by two rows of lime-trees, of which we shall have occasion to speak.
Now, you know enough about the setting, so that we can place our Thérèse therein . . . Abbé Domin, our devoted chaplain and spiritual director of our children, said to me once: “In time to come you will surely be asked to tell about Thérèse. Remember that nothing will portray her, during her stay in school, better than the violet. Quite hidden, as is this lowly flower of our woodlands, she breathes a fragrance like its own.” And we have followed this advice, so full of truth.
Starting the Day
The day-boarders had to come between eight and half-past eight in the morning. [If they arrived] after that hour, they had to give what were called in the school exemptions [excuses]. Thérèse, as we shall see, took the greatest care to have good marks constantly, everywhere and in everything. Accordingly, she used to come at the proper time, with her sister Céline and her cousins, Jeanne and Marie Guérin. Such punctuality was meritorious enough for these pupils of ours, especially in winter, for from Les Buissonets to the Abbey, the Martin girls had to come a distance of nearly a mile (1,500 meters). True, the route is of the pleasantest in summertime: main streets, skirting the green meadows of the celebrated Auge valley; the public garden with its fine walks fringed by chestnut-trees; the former residence of the bishops; then the Cathedral of St. Pierre. Close at hand now is M. Guérin’s pharmacy; here the girls stop to take along their cousins, who are waiting, ready. Their way goes on through the most central street of the town; after crossing the Touques river by the Barre bridge, the schoolgirls take the long sidewalk which leads directly from the Church of St. Désir to the Abbey.
Some of the townspeople still pride themselves--for they do glory in it--on having seen little Thérèse passing by, gay and bright, her school satchel under her arm, walking between her father and sister. Who would have suspected that, within some forty years, the remains of this charming child would pass again through these same streets, in a triumphal car, drawn by white caparisoned horses, in a midst of a magnificent procession, before a crowd gripped by intense fervor. Has not God, ever wonderful in His saints, surpassed Himself, as it were, in our little Thérèse?
(I am referring here to the translation of the remains of the saint when she was still only Venerable, on March 26, 1923. In fact, through a very thoughtful courtesy of the ecclesiastical authorities, the car halted for a minute before the Abbey and thus came to touch the edge of the sidewalk so often trod by Thérèse. What a joy this was for the nuns who, because of the exceptional nature of the event, had permission to view the relics of their saintly pupil from behind their grilles!)
But let us come back to our schoolgirls. The maid of the Guérin family, a trusted person who later on entered the religious life, accompanied the girls nearly always. Sometimes M Guérin himself came. Most often, M. Martin. The same held for their going home at six in the evening.
Reaching the cloakroom, Thérèse would hasten to ask the portress: “Is it Papa who is there this evening?” When the answer was affirmative, the child would quickly change from her uniform, catch up her coat and hat and run to throw herself in the arms of her dear Papa, whom she would embrace even before she had finished getting herself ready. He, on his part, on glimpsing her through the wicket, would say: “Let’s start. Come quickly, little queen!” Such was the exquisite affection uniting father and child.
We have already described the exterior charms of little Thérèse. Now that she is one of our charges, we must acquaint ourselves more fully with this child of benediction, showing her inner personality, her character, her lovable qualities, the real virtues that she already possessed, and the first impression of the teaching Sisters and the pupils.
“Did You Guess . . ?”
Thérèse Martin at eight and a half was true to her years; she was simple, naïve, frank. There was nothing studied about her; nothing extraordinary met the eye; above all, nothing that might make one guess that this lovable little youngster would be raised to the altars. Moreover, is it not very rare for the Church to canonize someone before fifty years have elapsed from his death?
This question is constantly repeated by pilgrims who seek interviews with us: “Did you suspect,” they say “that she would be canonized?”
And the reply is always the same. “Certainly not. That never entered our heads.” Neither her companions, nor her teachers, not even the worthy and very pious chaplain of the monastery, Abbé Domin, who had honor of preparing her for her First Communion and of being her spiritual director, guessed at the time to what a degree of heroic sanctity this “Little Spring Flower,” as winsome as she was retiring, was to rise.
We had her when she was a budding flower, and that in itself was a singular grace and a supreme honor. The complete unfolding was only to take place in the Carmel. Undoubtedly Providence permitted this obscuring of her greatness in order to shelter this young soul, admirably endowed with gifts of nature and grace, from the dangers of vanity and pride. If the future had been unveiled, everyone would assuredly have surrounded her with a due but perhaps dangerous veneration. How many times since then have we not said: “Ah, if we had known . . .” The Lord was watching over this treasure of His, and He kept her hidden in the secret of His Face.
Thérèse was perfectly obedient, meticulously faithful to the smallest details of the rules, taking alarm at even the appearance of a fault, going so far as to give the impression of scrupulosity.
St Thérèse, Schoolgirl
“I have never found her diverging from the line of duty; and even that is saying too little, for I could see in this child of scarcely nine years a watchfulness so strict and unrelenting that at first sight it appeared excessive.” So Mother Prioress deposed at the Process of Beatification. (Mother Prioress had entered the boarding school as a substitute teacher in January 1882. Thérèse had come only three months earlier). “I admired,” she stated again, “her faithful, prompt obedience to the signal of the bell and how strictly she kept silence, at a time when other less conscientious companions were inciting her, by their example, to disregard the rule.”
Let us hasten to add that Thérèse was not scrupulous at the time. This faithfulness to duty at such an early age had its origin in the high motives which were continually influencing this little soul, already so great in the eyes of God.
She was habitually calm, peaceful, and recollected--too much so for her years, it was thought. Sometimes a little shade of sadness would show itself on her features; she seemed preoccupied. This will surprise no one who has read The Story of a Soul. There we have seen that little Thérèse became acquainted with interior suffering very early.
We shall have occasion often to speak of the piety of our dear child. Her recollection in the chapel was admirable, but it had not the least trace of affectation.
The later parts of our account will complete this portrayal of the spiritual life of Thérèse, and we shall see the steady growth of her virtues. But we shall observe at the same time that this dear child came and went among us without noise and without creating any stir, quite hidden, just as the Child Jesus, Whose Name she was to bear, came and went in Nazareth.
The Home Background
A few words about the home surroundings in which the Lord had placed Thérèse Martin will bring this first article of ours to a conclusion, and will show that this environment was in every way helpful to the workings of grace. Let us hear what a nun of the Abbey, one who as a young girl was welcomed in the family circle, has written on the subject.
“I beheld there was an unusual union of good qualities; piety that was both solid and tender; deep respect for parents and older members of the family; simplicity, openness, tactful charity without any pushing forward of self; and all this, united with gaiety and even playfulness, made life more pleasant than words can express. Prayers were said together, each one leading in turn. Then they stayed up to read from selected works, devotional or entertaining, and all retired in a spirit of recollection after wishing an affectionate good night to everybody.”
Passing from this nest of happiness to school life, Thérèse must, one fancies, experienced a sense of change. The training given by the Sisters, permeated by the Benedictine spirit, was very motherly, and it softened the initial hardships for the newcomer. Céline, moreover, was unremitting in her affectionate attention to her young sister.
“So Thérèse had no defects?” you may say to yourself after reading these pages. To that we will reply later.
(Editor’s Note: The second article in this series will appear next month.)
Note: this article originally appeared in the March 1934 issue of The Far East (U.S.A. edition). It is reprinted by “Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway” at www.thereseoflisieux.org with permission from the Missionary Society of St. Columban at www.columban.org You may read it online at www.thereseoflisieux.org/abbey1 Permission is granted to duplicate this article in whole; please include this notice of acknowledgement.
To learn more about the Columban Missions, or to send a thank-offering, please visit
- in the United States, www.columban.org
- in Ireland, www.columban.com; and
- in the United Kingdom, www.columbans.co.uk
Special thanks to Linda Smith, who typed this article for publication; to her husband, Scott Smith, who formatted the print-friendly version you may download; and to Patricia Taussig, who prepared the illustrations and the images of the original 1934 article for publication.
Look for Part II (of four) in a couple of weeks! I found these articles just by searching the Internet and following the clue there, and I am confident that many other such treasures await discovery. If you want to help find them, please e-mail me. Thank you.
Unearthing a long-buried treasure about the First Communion and school days of St. Therese of Lisieux, thanks to the Missionary Society of St. Columban
Once in a great while, in researching St. Thérèse, I find and am permitted to share online a real treasure. Today is such an occasion. In my next blog entry, I will publish the first of a series of four jewels containing eyewitness testimony about St. Therese's First Communion and school life, but first please let me tell you joyfully how I discovered it.
Because I feel that my mission is to communicate St. Thérèse’s spirituality, and because, since I have a “day job,” my time for the mission is limited, I have focused on understanding the events that happened between the birth of the baby Thérèse Martin in 1873 and the death of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face in 1897 and what those events mean for us today. So I've had comparatively little time to study the rise of her cult and influence from 1897 until today. The digitizing and publishing online of newspapers and magazines from the 20th century is making available a wealth of material about the public interest in St. Therese, but for me to discover fresh eyewitness testimony about her in English is extraordinary.
Several weeks ago, for the 70th anniversary of D-day, I was searching for articles about the bombing of Lisieux in 1944 and about how the Carmelites of Lisieux and other townspeople had lived in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Therese from shortly after D-day until Lisieux was liberated at the end of August 1944. On Facebook alone these stories were viewed by more than a thousand people. During that research, I found the article below, which appeared in the Catholic Freeman’s Journal in Sydney in 1934.
"Little Flower's First Communion Recalled." (1934, July 12).
Catholic Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 - 1942), p. 31.
Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17319356
For a moment my heart stopped. Then I began to consider how to find these articles, if, indeed, they still existed 80 years later. I knew that Mother Saint-Lèon Loutrel of the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame du Pré in Lisieux had written La petite Thérèse à l’Abbaye, a little book about Thérèse’s five years as a day student at the Abbey. In 1929 it appeared in English as The Little Flower at the Benedictine Convent. Years ago I visited a university library to read this little work, which has been out of print for aeons. Now I was amazed to learn that an unnamed Benedictine, who’d been a senior student when Thérèse had started school, later become a Benedictine nun, and then taught Thérèse in class, had published four articles about Thérèse’s school days. Imagine my joy at discovering through the Internet that The Far East is still being published by the Missionary Society of St. Columban! I wrote them at once to ask whether they still had the articles, and, if so, whether I might republish them online in honor of the 130th annniversary in 2014 of Thérèse ‘s First Communion in 1884. They answered at once, promising to search their archives. After only a few days of suspense, I received on Friday, July 4 the kindest answer saying that their archivists in Ireland had unearthed the very issues I needed, and sending them to me with permission to publish them! All four articles appeared in the United States in 1934. Three appeared in Ireland, but, for some unknown reason, article 3, which gives a moment-by-moment description of the day of St. Thérèse’s First Communion, was never published in Ireland. So I’m especially happy to be able to transmit it to the people of Ireland, many of whom love Thérèse and her parents, Louis and Zélie, deeply. The United States has received much from the many diligent missionaries, Carmelites and others, born in Ireland who have preached St. Thérèse in our country. The late Fr. J. Linus Ryan, director of the National Office for St. Thérèse in Ireland, was one of the most generous supporters of my work. And Mgr Bernard Lagoutte, rector of the Shrine at Lisieux in 2008, when Louis and Zélie Martin were beatified, said “Ireland has led the world in the promotion of the Cause of the Parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.” I remember, at the Mass of Beatification in Lisieux, the Irish contingent in places of honor, each delegate waving a small Irish flag. I am happy to be part of this international collaboration between Ireland, Australia, and the United States to give this testimony about St. Thérèse's childhood back to the world.
The next step was to type the text of the articles so that they’d be easy to read and searchable online. The very day before I received them, Thérèse’s great friend, Bishop Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., had died in France. I had learned of his death the same day and immediately began to pray that he might obtain for us the grace to continue his mission. (Clearly he lost no time in answering!). Arranging the translation into English of the announcement of his death and funeral and the various tributes to him, as well as preparing to celebrate online the feast of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin on July 12, prevented my typing these articles, but God went before me. Two days after the permission came, I spoke on “The Eucharist as Source and Summit of the Martin Family” at the monthly day of prayer in the presence of the reliquary of the Martin family at the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia. Linda Smith, who was present, volunteered to work with me in evangelizing about St. Therese, and offered to type the articles. Her husband, Scott, decided to join her in the apostolate, and he formatted the first article expertly. Patricia Taussig of North Carolina prepared for publication the original images of the pages that appeared in The Far East and the photographs contributed by the Benedictine nuns. Please see the fruits of their work: "The Little Flower at School," Part I. I know you join me in thanking them.
Please join me also in thanking the Missionary Society of St. Columban (often colloquially known as the "Columban Fathers" and "Columban Sisters," together with their lay missioners), who elicited and published these historic articles in 1934, granted me permission to share them with you, and continue to work in solidarity with God's beloved poor in Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America. To learn more about their work, or to send a thank-offering, please visit:
The homily preached by Francois-Marie Lethel, O.C.D., at the funeral of Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., "Therese's bishop," on July 10, 2014 at the Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux
Photo Credit: Paris Province of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
delivered by François-Marie Lethel, O.C.D.,
a Carmelite friar of the Paris province,
at the funeral of his brother, Guy Gaucher, O.C.D.,
a Carmelite friar of the same province,
the auxiliary bishop emeritus of Bayeux and Lisieux,
and the friend of Thérèse,
on July 10, 2014 in the Basilica of St. Thérèse at Lisieux
Our brother Guy Gaucher brings us together to celebrate together the Passover of Jesus in this Basilica of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He brings us together as his brothers, his friends, and each of us has a personal bond with him.
He asked me to give this homily because I am his brother in the Carmelite Order, in our Province of Paris, and especially because we entered the novitiate on the same day, September 21, 1967, on the feast of St. Matthew. On the following October 2, we both received the Carmelite habit at the hands of Fr Bernard Delalande, Provincial. Then, at the end of the novitiate year, we made our Religious Profession on October 3, 1968, which was then the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. After that, it was always Thérèse who brought us together with so many brothers and sisters, so many friends, believers and non-believers, present in one way or another at this moment..
Our brother Guy himself chose the readings of Holy Scripture that we have just heard, and it is these texts that illuminate our Celebration. The words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans tell us the true meaning of his whole life and of his death: to live for Jesus, to die for Jesus, to belong to Jesus Dead and Risen, Unique Lord of the dead and of the living. With the words of the Gospel of Luke, Guy invites us to relive, as he did, this journey of the two disciples of Emmaus on which the Risen Jesus came to meet them in the depth of their sadness, their inner turmoil, to revive in their hearts the flame of Hope, of Faith and of Love, so that their sorrow will turn into joy. But above all, through his own testimony, Guy comes to repeat to us these words of Jesus: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer his Passion in order to enter into his Glory?”
Dear Friends, let’s listen to Guy himself, speaking to all of us at the end of his Spiritual Testament:
I thank all those who have loved me, formed me, helped me throughout my life: my parents, already gone; my family, and a great number of faithful friends in all ecclesial vocations and in the world.
I thank above all her who entered into life saying “All is grace.”
I have tried to be in the service of her mission: to give her evangelical little way to the people of all five continents. How she welcomes me!
I give thanks for her Doctorate, one of the high points of my life, that October 19, 1997 in Rome, Mission Sunday, the eleventh anniversary of my episcopal ordination, thanks to John Paul II.
In these few lines, our Brother Guy tells us again in a magnificent way what was the most beautiful and most characteristic facet of his life, which is his extraordinary spiritual communion with little Thérèse.
He reiterates this in a more developed fashion in his Simple personal notes:
On that October 19, 1997, Mission Sunday (the eleventh anniversary of my ordination as a bishop), I felt that my life had reached its goal, a goal which had been decided for me, almost without my knowledge.
Thérèse, patron of missions, of France, and of the world: the mission was at the heart of my life as a layman (Cœur vaillant, JEC, patro, Centre Richelieu), as a priest in Paris, as a Carmelite friar in HLM Orleans-La Source (such a beautiful time in my life, 16 years), as bishop (short-lived) of Meaux, then of Lisieux.
I owe first to Thérèse this flawless realism in the face of human weakness, the sin, the wounds, the walls, and the nights that sweeps away any naïveté, any narcissistic generosity and seriously confronts the unprecedented abasement of the Incarnate Word to “his poor little creature.”
I can say that Thérèse taught me much about the truth of the Gospel, making it livable, possible, because everything comes from God, in short, because “Everything is grace,” from which, consequently, flows constant thanksgiving.
Of course, she is not the only one who has enlightened me, but she has brought me from the most banal daily life into the world of holiness, which is at once loneliness and love, suffering and joy.
For Guy, this same date of October 19 symbolized the deep bond between his Episcopal Ordination and the proclamation of Thérèse as a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II. Recall that, exactly 11 years later, on October 19, 2008, Guy had the joy of participating in the beatification of the Parents of Thérèse, Louis and Zelie Martin, here in Lisieux. And it is from the Church of Heaven that he will participate in the beatification of Paul VI, to be held in Rome on October 19 precisely. Another lovely sign, because Paul VI was deeply Theresian. He was baptized on September 30, 1897, the very day of the death of Thérèse. In declaring, for the first time, two women, Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena, as Doctors of the Church, he definitively surpassed an obstacle that his Predecessors had believed insurmountable, and he reopened the way to the doctorate for little Thérèse. But above all, in his very depths, Paul VI had lived, like Thérèse, a very painful interior night, which was for him the night of Hope.
Dear Friends, our brother Guy thus opens his inner world, the “world of holiness” where "Thérèse is not the only one.” He invites us all to enter with him into this very great Mystery of the Communion of Saints, into this wonderful “circle of Saints” painted by the Blessed Fra Angelico, where the saints of heaven join hands and extend their hands to us, to guide us together, as sisters and brothers, along the path of holiness that we are called to travel. This is one of the most beautiful teachings of Vatican II! For Guy, there were also the other saints of Carmel, especially the other two doctors, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, who are the “spiritual parents“ of little Thérèse, and also the Venerable Father Marie-Eugène of Child Jesus, founder of the Institute of Notre-Dame de Vie (Our Lady of Life). Father Guy worked hard for the cause of his beatification, and he wrote Father Marie-Eugène’s biography.
But in this “circle of saints,” our Thérèse always came in first; it is always she who held him by the hand (like Joan of Arc for Charles Péguy). Guy never stopped working for her, but even more living with her, loving with her, and suffering with her.
Thérèse led Guy to Carmel. Immediately after his novitiate, in 1968, he was called to work for the Critical Edition of her Works with a whole team, which was to culminate in the great Edition du Centenaire in 1992.
But above all, our Brother Guy has fully lived the spirituality of Thérèse in its most interior dimension, which is also the most dramatic, in all the depth of the Passion and the Agony of Jesus. With Thérèse, he repeats to us Jesus' words heard in the Gospel: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer his Passion in order to enter into his Glory?”
In 1972, he published his fine book, The Passion of Thérèse of Lisieux (a book that really touched me personally in those difficult years after 1968). For Guy, this book was to have a mysterious meaning, prophetic, as the announcement of this period in which he personally relived the Passion of Thérèse in her sickness and in her interior trial.
The period of the luminous and peaceful years of community life and of service in our Province of Paris would end in1986 with his nomination as a bishop, this “martyrdom of the Episcopate,” as he tells us in his personal notes :
I knew, in 1986, that accepting the episcopate could lead to martyrdom, and (without playing the martyr) I started to experience at Meaux a path of unexpected solitude, in complete powerlessness and in the darkest night.
I regret nothing of these three years. They were a great grace and a decisive stage in my life. Having experienced this, what worse could happen to me?
To go through this tunnel which seems interminable changes life. One who has not lived it, what does he know? (I mention the inestimable value of faithful friends, those in the medical profession and others).
Now I say: “Every vocation is a mission,” adding: “every mission is a passion.”
After these three years of his passion, supported by many brothers and friends, especially by members of the Institute of Our Lady of Life that had welcomed him, Guy would know years of resurrection, of a great ecclesial fruitfulness here in Lisieux, as “Thérèse’s bishop,” which were to culminate with the Doctorate of Thérèse in 1997. Becoming bishop emeritus in 2005, he retired to the residence of Quinsan, in Vénasque, near the community of Our Lady of Life, and it was there that he wrote his last book, his great biography of Thérèse, published in 2010.
After that, he found Thérèse near the Cross, in the last four years which were so painful, but always supported and accompanied by many friends. This was the last step of his way of holiness, lived with Thérèse, who said on the very day of her death: “I do not regret having surrendered myself to love . . . Never would I have believed it was possible to suffer so much! never! never! I cannot explain it except by the ardent desires I have had to save souls.” Just before she died, Thérèse had fixed her gaze on Mary, the Virgin of the Smile, and, according to the beautiful expression of Father Marie-Eugène, “the light of the Virgin never shines more sweetly than in the darkness.” She was present near our brother Guy; she is close to us right now as we prepare to celebrate her as Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16.
Now, our brother Guy has entered into life, and he invites us to raise our eyes to the happiness of Heaven. Let us listen to his last words to us about this mysterious passage from death to eternal life:
It will be a passage through a narrow door, a passover, a birth.
Because I see what I believe today (very badly), and it will be ineffable. Of faith in the vision. Ultimately, the unveiling of what was hidden, not the ephemeral light of the Transfiguration, but the opportunity to pitch one’s tent forever at the top of the mountain with Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, and a huge crowd that one cannot count ( . . . )
Jesus . . . it had to happen to him. Everything converges towards him: the earth and all its riches that I am leaving (unlike Bernanos, I can say that I really liked them), the great History of humanity.
Risen Jesus, Alpha and Omega, you are the “Door.” You left this life to prepare the one which is to come, your own, that of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, the eternal Life you have promised us.
How many times have I quoted Thérèse’s words, “I am not dying, I am entering into life!” (LT 244). Soon I will repeat this luminous phrase “for real,” in another and more difficult way.
A friend often repeated to me, when we were talking of the inexpressible joys to come: “The best is ahead of us.”
May this departure be a blessing to all those I leave (temporarily). This will be the best way to ask their forgiveness for my sins, voluntary or not, and to thank them for having been what they are. (I mention no names; he has many names here).
A Dieu! Pray for me. We are all going to the eternal reunion, prepared by the merciful Love of the Trinity . . . .
English translation by Maureen O'Riordan, in thanksgiving.
I thank the homilist, Fr. François-Marie Lethel, O.C.D., and Fr. Guillaume Dehorter, O.C.D., the provincial superior of the Paris Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, for permission to translate this homily. Their generosity reflects that of their brother.
I thank the Carmelites of the Paris province for these beautiful photos of the funeral of their brother, Carmelite friar and Bishop Guy Gaucher, "Therese's bishop." His funeral Mass took place on Thursday, July 10 at 3:00 p.m. in the Basilica of St. Therese at Lisieux, and he was laid to rest in the town cemetery, near the tomb where the body of St. Therese rested from the day of her own funeral in 1897 until it returned to Carmel in 1923. In communion of thanksgiving and in prayer that we might continue the mission he shared with her, "to love Jesus and to make Him loved." "All is grace."