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St. Therese of Lisieux and Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament, "Philadelphia's Little Flower"- Part 1 - August 21, 2014

Leading up to the first presentation of the new conference "The Martin Family and the Lisieux Carmel, and St. Therese and the Carmel of Philadelphia" on September 7, 2014, we are featuring a series of "teaser" articles about the remarkable personalities who participated in the extraordinary outpouring of devotion to St. Therese that was born at the Philadelphia Carmel from its foundation in 1902, five years after the death of Therese.  We introduce the series with part one, "St.  Therese of Lisieux and Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament (1879-1911)," who came to be known as "Philadelphia's Little Flower."


Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament, O.C.D.

The young nun who established the first contact between the Philadelphia Carmel and the Lisieux Carmel, and who maintained it for many years, was Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the remarkable group of young women who came to be known as the “four foundresses” of the Philadelphia Carmel.

The future Sister Stanislaus was born in Philadelphia on June 6, 1879 to Francis and Mary Therese Kelly and baptized Helen Genevieve.  (At that time little Therese Martin, almost six and a half years old, had been living in Lisieux, where her family moved after the death of her mother, for less than two years).  The resemblance between Helen's life and that of St. Therese is striking.  Like St. Therese, she was the youngest of a large family (thirteen children!)  Like Therese, she had two sisters who also became nuns (Sisters of Charity).  She was also granted what Therese and her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, had long desired: a priest brother, Father Joseph Kelly. 

Lively and playful as a child, Helen was educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and had ties to the Church of the Gesu, a now-closed parish in North Philadelphia which was then staffed by Jesuits.  Like Therese, Helen experienced the call to Carmel early.  Years before Helen was born, the future St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia, had wanted to establish a monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns in this diocese.  With the echo of the Know-Nothing riots of the 1840s still in their ears, his council had persuaded him against it.  In Helen’s youth, then, no Carmelite monastery existed in Philadelphia.  But in 1895, while Sister Therese of the Child Jesus was writing her first memoir at the Carmel of Lisieux, another young Catholic woman of Philadelphia, Mary Otillia McGeogh, had entered the Carmel in Boston.  It was to this Carmel of Boston that Helen applied at age sixteen.   She so impressed the community that they waived the rule (as the Lisieux Carmel had done for Therese) and allowed her to enter at seventeen.  She was received in April, 1896, the very month in which, “during those very beautiful days of the Easter season,” Therese first began to experience her trial against faith. 

Lisieux Carmel also had a Sister Stanislaus


Another synergy between Stanislaus and Therese: the Lisieux Carmel also had a Sister Stanislaus, this time Sister Stanislaus of the Sacred Hearts, a goodhearted elderly nun who, for several years, supervised the young Sister Therese when she worked in the sacristy.  It was for Sister Stanislaus’s jubilee that Sister Therese wrote her last religious play, “St. Stanislaus Kostka,” about the young Polish Jesuit who died, while still a novice, at age seventeen—the age at which Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament of Philadelphia entered the Carmel in Boston.  Perhaps the name “Stanislaus” was chosen for her because she was the same age as the young Jesuit saint.

Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament Meets St. Therese in Boston


Sister Stanislaus was still in her early religious formation at the Boston Carmel when Sister Therese died in Lisieux on September 30, 1897.   A little more than a year later, the memoir of the young French nun who had died at age 24 was published as Histoire d’une Ame,  in an edition of 2,000 copies.  One of them found its way to the Boston Carmel, where Sister Stanislaus read it eagerly.  She began at once to translate it into English.  Her life would never be the same.

Her childlike simplicity and purity of heart were wings with which she flew in the wake of the Little Flower.  In Therese she found her soul’s companion and guide for the fulfillment of her own holy desires and longings. 

When she became a foundress of the Philadelphia Carmel in 1902, she already had become a central figure in the American campaign to beatify the future saint, and she remained devoted to this effort as long as she lived.

(Carmel in Philadelphia: The First Hundred Years (published by the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia, 2002), p. 54.

Sister Stanislaus Was a Pioneer in Making Sister Therese Known


That Sister Stanislaus, as  early as 1902, was central to the "American effort to beatify Therese" is the more significant when one realizes that the word "beatify" is not known to have been mentioned in France until 1903, when Fr. Thomas Taylor of Scotland first visited the Lisieux Carmel and urged Therese's sisters and Mother Marie de Gonzague, who received him in the speakroom, to open her cause. At the diocesan process in 1910 Fr. Taylor testified that Therese's reputation developed slowly at first (at least until 1908).  When he visited the Blackrock Carmel of Dublin in 1904, "before the great movement of devotion that has developed since then," the prioress laughed at the idea of canonizing Therese and said "We may as well canonize all the Carmelite nuns."  (She changed her mind later).  He said that after a favor received at the Good Shepherd Convent in London in 1908, Sister Therese's reputation "has greatly developed, especially in Scotland." (Testimony of Fr. Thomas Nimmo Taylor at the 1910 Process for St. Therese on the Web site of the Archives of Lisieux).   

After the arrival of the four foundresses, Philadelphia would never be the same. 

[Continue to part two of this series, "Letters from St. Therese's sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, to Sister Stanislaus of the Blessed Sacrament, "Philadelphia's Little Flower"]

[Continue to part three of this series, "St. Therese of Lisieux and Sister Mary of St. Joseph," which recounts the efforts of Sister Stanislaus’s childhood friend and fellow apostle, Sister Mary of St. Joseph, to make the spirituality of St. Therese known and loved].

To learn more, visit the Web site of "The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia."  I thank the nuns for generously allowing me to use the publication listed above and the documents in their archives (digitized on their Web site!)].

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