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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

of the Holy Face

The return to God of Jean Vanier, May 7, 2019

Jean Vanier in 2012. Photo credit: Wikipedia    I was both joyful and saddened to learn that Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, died this morning at the age of 90 in Paris.  Vanier is one of Therese's best-known and, if I may say so, most faithful disciples.  The powerful connection between him and St. Therese has an historical root.  In 1890, while St. Therese was still alive, Father Almire Pichon, a Jesuit priest whom St. Louis Martin liked to call "the spiritual director of the Martin family," then in Canada, had begun to give spiritual direction to another teenager named Therese: Therese de Salaberry Archer.  Madame Archer, who maintained her friendship with Fr. Pichon until his death, became the mother of Pauline Archer Vanier, Jean Vanier's mother. 

I have had the joy of being among those who received the "Letters from Jean."  In his letter of April 2016 he recounts going on pilgrimage to Lisieux with a group from L'Arche.  While there, he 

rediscovered Therese, little Therese, and the little way that she opened up for us--that is to say, living in trust, believing in mercy.  She died at the age of 24.  My God, what extraordinary progress she made in her life!  And, through her, God has worked wonders in renewing the Church in faith, love, and  trust in Jesus. 

Read the full "letter from Jean Vanier," in which Jean speaks of how Therese teaches us to live in community.  

For more background on Father Pichon, read my article "Almire Pichon, S.J. and Marie Martin, the sister of St. Therese of Lisieux."

The Internet is already filling up with tributes to this humble but great figure of faith.  I can add only these lines about his connection with Therese.  But you may enjoy reading the story of his life in "A Joy, Not a Nuisance: What the Disabled  Taught Jean Vanier" by Michael W. Higgins (Commonweal, December 15, 2015). 

You may also see the Web page created by L'Arche for Jean Vanier, where you may read about his life and leave a tribute, at

A representative of L'Arche has announced that Jean's funeral will be on Thursday, May 16 (more than a week from now) at 2:00 p.m. French time in Trosly-Breuil, France.  Because he wanted an intimate funeral, the ceremony is private, but it will be broadcast live on French TV (  An English translation will be available at that same channel.

Few people have lived Therese's way so powerfully.  May Jean inspire us and intercede for us until we share the complete union with God into which he was received today.  

125 years ago with St. Therese: "Saint Cecilia," Therese's first long poem, written for Celine's 25th birthday on April 28, 1894



Icon of St. Cecilia, patron of music, by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS. Available from Trinity Stores; for information, click on the icon.

For Celine's 25th birthday, April 28, 1894, Therese wrote her third poem, and her first long one.  Although it is now titled "Saint Cecilia," (ACL),* the copy she sent to her sister bore the title "The Melody of Saint Cecilia."

 Who was St. Cecilia for Therese?

 Cecilia was an early Roman martyr.  Although many of the stories about her life are legend, her existence and martyrdom are historical facts.  Therese tells us in Story of a Soul that her devotion to Cecilia dates from her pilgrimage to Rome in November 1887.  When  she visited Cecilia's tomb and the site of her house, transformed into a church at her request and learned that Cecilia was named patron of music

"in memory of the virginal song she sang to her heavenly Spouse hidden in the depths of her heart, I felt more than devotion for her; it was the real tenderness of a friend. She became my saint of predilection, my intimate confidante. Everything in her thrilled me, especially her abandonment, her limitless confidence . . . 

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St.  Therese of Lisieux, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, 3rd ed., 1996. 

Read Therese's full account of her visit to the tomb and church of St. Cecilia on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux. 

Cecilia, a consecrated virgin, was to be married against her will to the pagan Valerian, and, while the instruments sounded to celebrate her nuptials, she went on singing to the Lord in her heart, as the Office for her feast says.  This abandonment captured the imagination of the 14-year-old Therese instantly. 

Why did Therese write about Saint Cecilia for Celine?

Celine was the Martin sister who stayed longest in "the world."  She had managed a household, cared (with the aid of Leonie till 1893) for her sick father, and refused two proposals of marriage.  While participating in the active social life of the Guerin family, she had made a private vow of chastity.  She would stay with Louis until his death.  As the Lisieux Carmel was not likely to accept a fourth nun from the same family, what she would do then was unclear.  Faced with the dilemma of Celine's future, Therese explored Cecilia's spiritualitym more deeply.  She had proposed the abandonment of Cecilia as a model to her sister in her extraordinarily rich letter of October 1893 for Celine's feast:  "the dear little St. Cecilia, what a model for the little lyre of Jesus . .  ."   (ACL)

Letters of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Vol. II, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, 1988, pp. 826-829.  Read Therese's full letter on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Now, having written only two poems, she produces a "symphony" for her sister in "Saint Cecilia"  (ACL).  The poem's themes, dear to  Therese, show the connection between virginity, marriage, and martyrdom.  Above all, the poem celebrates Cecilia's abandonment in lines that foreshadow  the way of confidence and love Therese will discover soon after Celine enters in September:

You sang this sublime canticle to the Lord:
"Keep my heart pure, Jesus, my tender Spouse!.."
"Ineffable abandonment! Divine melody!
You disclose your love through your celestial song.
Love that fears not, that falls asleep and forgets itself
On the Heart of God, like a little child... 

In telling the story of Valerian, Therese makes a poetic commentary on the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.  In the angel's mouth she puts a theme especially dear to her: that human beings are more fortunate than the angels because, unlike them, we can suffer and die for God.  She celebrates Cecilia and Valerian in lines that could have been inspired by her parents' marriage:
Your chaste union will give birth to souls
Who will seek no other spouse but Jesus.

What happened to the poem later?

During the next three years, Therese shortened and rewrote this poem, sending copies to her spiritual brothers, Adolphe Roulland and Maurice Belliere.  Her extensive editorial work shows how important she thought this early poem was.  In 1897, she produced a "second edition" with the intention of its being distributed after her death, and this edition is the one ultimately published.  Thanks to the generosity of the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, you can read the poem online on the incomparable Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.   (In this article, the citation ACL indicates that the source is the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux). 

For a fuller understanding of Therese's poetry, I recommend the book The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O,C.D.  (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, 1996).  To grasp the context and the full richness of Therese's poetry, the introductions and notes to each poem in this book, which are not available online, are invaluable.


[Purchasing through the links in this article supports this Web site].

Posted on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at 03:00PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

125 years ago with St. Therese: her letter for Celine's 25th birthday, April 28, 1894

 Celine, left, with Marie Guerin at La Musse in the summer of 1894. Photo courtesy of the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux

 In 1894, Celine was living with her father in a small house on rue Labbey, across a little alley from the home of her uncle, Isidore Guerin.  Leonie was making her second attempt at the Visitation at Caen, and Celine's other three sisters, Marie, Pauline, and Therese, were nuns at the Lisieux Carmel.  Celine usually visited them once a week.  But the Carmelites were not allowed to write letters to a person they had seen that week in the speakroom. So, as her birthday approached, Celine gave up the visit in order to receive a birthday letter from each sister.  Every year Therese wrote a special letter.

 Therese was 21 in 1894.  She wrote to Celine on Thursday, April 26, for Celine's birthday on Saturday, April 28: her letter accompanies a poem she had written for the occasion [more on that tomorrow]. She speaks of Celine's role as the caregiver for their sick father, who would die on July 29:  "You are now the visible angel of him who will soon go to be united to the angels of the heaveniy city!"  Then she gives a short, rich, and powerful commentary on the gospel story in which Jesus, after he rose from the dead, found that the disciples had "worked hard all night long and caught nothing," and filled the basket with so much fish it almost broke the nets.   Since in 1894 Easter Sunday fell on March 25, Therese could have meditated on this story for a month already.  Please read Therese's birthday letter to Celine on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.  

An essay illustrated with 19th century photos to celebrate the annniversary of the day St. Therese of Lisieux entered Carmel, April 9, 1888

Therese Martin entered Carmel on Monday, April 9, 1888.  That year April 9 was the feast of the Annunciation, which had been transferred from March 25 because of Lent.  This photo essay is to celebrate the anniversary of her entrance.

Therese a few days before she entered on April 9, 1888

Let's listen to some accounts of her entrance.  First, Saint Therese's own:

"On the morning of the great day, casting a last look upon Les Buissonnets, that beautiful cradle of my childhood which I was never to see again, I left on my dear King's arm to climb Mount Carmel. Chapel entrance of Lisieux Carmel photographed shortly after Therese's death

 As on the evening before, the whole family was reunited to hear Holy Mass and receive Communion.  As soon as Jesus descended into the hearts of my relatives, I heard nothing but sobs around me. 

The sanctuary of the chapel of the Lisieux Carmel in the time of St. Therese

 I was the only one who didn't shed any tears, but my heart was beating so violently it seemed impossible to walk when they signaled for me to come to the enclosure door.  I advanced, however, asking myself whether I was going to die because of the beating of my heart!  Ah! what a moment that was.  One would have to experience it to know what it is.


Louis Martin, probably at age 58, about 1881

 My emotion was not noticed exteriorly.  After embracing all the members of the family, I knelt down before my matchless Father for his blessing, and to give it to me he placed himself upon his knees and blessed me, tears flowing down his cheeks.  It was a spectacle to make the angels smile, this spectacle of an old man presenting his child, still in the springtime of life, to the Lord!


Space where Louis knelt to bless Therese when she entered, April 9, 1888A few moments later, the doors of the holy ark closed upon me, and there I was received by the dear Sisters who embraced me.  Ah! they had acted as mothers to me in my childhood, and I was going to take them as models for my actions from now on.  My desires were at last accomplished, and my soul experienced a peace so sweet, so deep, it would be impossible to express it." 

(Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of LIsieux, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 3rd ed., 1996.  Used with permission).


Canon Delatroette

St. Therese writes "A few moments later."  She tactfully omits what other witnesses report happened in those few moments.  Canon Jean-Baptiste Delatroette, the parish priest of St. Jacques, was the ecclesiastical superior of the Lisieux Carmel (the priest charged with supervising, from the outside, this community of women religious).  He had bitterly opposed Therese's entrance, believing her too young, but was overruled by his bishop, who left the decision up to the prioress.  Before Therese crossed the threshold, and in the presence of her father and her sisters, Canon Delatroette announced "Well, my Reverend Mothers, you can sing a Te Deum.  As the delegate of Monseigneur the bishop, I present to you this child of fifteen whose entrance you so much desired.  I trust that she will not disappoint your hopes, but I remind you that, if she does, the responsibility is yours, and yours alone."  He could not have foreseen that twenty-two years later Pope St. Pius X would call this girl "the greatest saint of modern times."

Much less well known than Saint Therese's account of her entrance is Celine's description of her experience of the same moment. Celine and Leonie were present with their father at the short ceremony. 

Celine and Leonie the year after Therese enteredAfter writing of how inseparable she and Therese had been, Celine continued:

It took much yet to get to Monday, April 9, 1888, where the little Queen left her own, after we heard Mass together in the Carmel, to join her two older sisters in the cloister.  When I gave her a farewell kiss at the door of the monastery, I was faltering and had to support myself against the wall, and yet I did not cry, I wanted to give her to Jesus with all my heart, and He in turn clothed me in his strength.  Ah! how much I needed this divine strength!  At the moment when Thérèse entered the holy ark, the cloister door which shut between us was the faithful picture of what really happened, as a wall had arisen between our two lives."  (from the obituary circular of Celine Martin, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face, copyright Lisieux Carmel; translation copyright Maureen O'Riordan 2013).

The enclosure door which shut between Celine and Therese on April 9, 1888Saint Therese continues, writing of her impressions that first day:  "Everything thrilled me; I felt as though I was transported into a desert; our little cell, above all, filled me with joy."  St. Therese occupied three cells in Carmel, and until now few people have seen even a photograph of that first cell, for the photo commonly published was of Therese's last cell.  Thanks to the generosity of the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel, we can at last see early photos of the room Therese saw that day.  It was on the corridor near the garden:

The corridor with the door to Therese's first cell standing openThis cell looked out on the roof of the "dressmaking building" where habits were made:

 Carmelite postulants wore a secular dress with a little capelet, and a small net bonnet on the head.  The photograph below of Marie Guerin as a postulant (she entered August 15, 1895) shows how St. Therese and all postulants dressed until they received the habit.

 Learn more about the Carmelite life Therese began to live on April 9, 1888.

The feast of the Annunciation is usually celebrated on March 25, just nine months before the feast of Christmas.  Celine wrote that Therese loved the feast on March 25 "because that's when Jesus was smallest."  Therese began her Carmelite life on the feast of Mary's "Yes" to her Lord.  May each of us enter every day of our own lives with Therese's fervor and joy, for every day is a doorway for each of us to intimacy with God, to wholeness, and to sainthood.

Note: the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux are being digitized and posted online in English at the Web site of the Archives of Carmel of Lisieux.  All the above photos are displayed courtesy of that site.  Please visit it here to see thousands of pages of photographs, documents, and information about St. Therese, her writings, her family, her environment, the nuns with whom she lived, and her influence in the world.  It is a true doorway to Saint Therese!


March 25, 2019: St. Therese of Lisieux and the feast of the Annunciation

Fra Angelico's "Annunciation"St. Therese especially loved the mystery of the Annunciation, and celebrated it every year. At the first inquiry into Therese's sanctity in 1910, her sister Celine testified:  

She had a particular devotion for the mystery of the Incarnation, which she would observe devotedly every 25th March. She loved to contemplate Jesus in his childhood. She once said, “I should like to die on 25th March, because it was on that day that Jesus was the smallest.1

In 1888, the feast of the Annunciation, transferred because of Lent, was celebrated on April 9, the day Therese entered the Lisieux Carmel.  God must have understood that her "yes" to her Carmelite vocation would be a profound echo of Mary's "yes."  

Therese's understanding of what happened when the angel Gabriel came to Mary is remarkably realistic and down-to-earth.  In July 1915, her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, testified at the second process:

She was very simple and had little experience of evil. Fearful of discovering it, as she acknowledges in her autobiography, she entrusted the protection of her purity to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph.  Later on, she came to understand that everything is pure for the pure of heart. Seeing that she knew about the realities of life, I asked her who had enlightened her. She said that she had discovered them without even looking, from observing nature, the flowers and birds. She added, “The Blessed Virgin knew all these things. For she said to the angel, on the day of the Annunciation, “How will this be, since I know not a man?” Knowing things is not evil. All that God has made is very good and very noble. Marriage is a beautiful state for those whom God has called to it; it is sin which distorts and soils it.”2

  Therese emphasized that Mary, who was purity itself, knew the facts of life when the angel came to her, and that there was nothing wrong with her having that knowledge; Therese, the wise and innocent child of God's mercy, understands with Mary that God has made nothing that is not very good.  



Posted on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at 11:56PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan in , | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint