125 Years Ago With Saint Therese - Her Liberating Encounter with Father Alexis Prou and Its Surprising Sequel - Part 1 of 7 - "Retreats at Carmel" - October 30, 2016
A hundred and twenty-five years ago this month, St. Therese experienced a watershed moment in her personal development when, in October 1891, Franciscan Father Alexis Prou came to her Carmelite monastery to preach the annual community retreat. In her memoir, Story of a Soul, she describes the great grace she received when he heard her confession. That passage is quite famous. Less well known is what happened in the days immediately afterward. In honor of this anniversary, I will explore the context of this liberating encounter, its effects, and the surprising sequel, including “reported words” of Therese that, I believe, appear in English here for the first time. This article is being published in seven parts.
Part 1 of 7– Retreats at Carmel during Therese’s lifetime
Private retreats at Carmel
n Therese’s time, each Carmelite made a private retreat to prepare for her reception of the habit and later to prepare for the profession of her vows. Each nun usually made two annual retreats: a private retreat lasting ten days, near the anniversary of her profession, and a retreat with the community, lasting about a week, to prepare for the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the reformer of Carmel, on October 15. Since Therese had made her vows on September 8, 1890, she usually made her private retreat in September. It was during her private retreat in September 1896 that she wrote the beautiful manuscript in which she says “my vocation is Love!”
The letter of Sister Marie of the Eucharist (Therese’s cousin Marie Guerin) to her parents on March 13, 1897, as she was about to start a private retreat for her Profession, gives an idea:
At ½ past 7 tomorrow evening I’m going to enter into deep solitude. I will be with Jesus all alone until the fine day of my Profession. Oh! Pray hard for me during these days of retreat, so that I might be attentive to the voice of the One who will soon become my Divine Spouse. Ask Him for his graces [lv°] and understanding, and may the fine day of my Profession be the starting point for a thorough conversion, a very deep generosity and humility, and above all, a love for God that recoils before no sacrifice. You know how hard your poor little daughter will pray for you, and her requests are great and immense, as is the love she has for you.[i]
To this letter the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux adds a note about the customs of the private retreat: