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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.

 black-and-white newspaper clipping

"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:

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