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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

of the Holy Face

Celine's letter to Leonie (August 15, 1917) giving details of her role in the second exhumation of the body of her sister, St.Therese of Lisieux

 

The cover of this coffret was sculpted from wood taken from the second coffin of St. Therese, exhumed on August 9, 1917

      A hundred years ago, on August 15, 1917, St. Therese's sister Celine wrote to their sister Leonie to tell her every detail of her participation in the second exhumation of St. Therese's body.  This letter is quite extraordinary.  Please read it here at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

     The second exhumation of the body of St. Therese lasted for two days.  On Thursday, August 9, 1917, in the presence of the bishop and church dignitaries, the coffin was exhumed. For safekeeping, it was secured overnight in the cemetery chapel.  The next day, Friday, August 10, the two appointed doctors were to examine and "recognize" St. Therese's bones.  Her sister Celine (Sister Genevieve), along with another Carmelite, received permission to leave the enclosure to assist at this second ceremony; she was to wrap the bones of her sister in white cloth and place them in a reliquary.

     At the end of her letter Celine promises to send Leonie "the report as soon as it is published."  Thanks to the generosity of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, we have already translated and published this report, which was published by the diocese of Bayeux on August 15, 1917

Posted on Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 10:20PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

100 years ago with St. Therese: letters from her Carmelite sisters about the second exhumation of her relics, August 9-10, 1917

The rosewood coffin which held the oak reliquary that contained the body of St. Therese in the town cemetery of Lisieux from the date ot its second exhumation (August 10, 1917) until its solemn translation to the Lisieux Carmel on March 26, 1923. Photo credit: Susan Ehlert

The second exhumation of Sister Therese's body, of course, caused excitement in Lisieux, and her Carmelite sisters did their best to keep Leonie, their sister in the Visitation monastery at Caen, informed.  So you can read their eyewitness accounts of what was happening that week:

  • On August 5, 1917, four days before the ceremony began, Marie of the Sacred Heart wrote to Leonie telling her of the arrangements and mentioning that Celine (Sister Genevieve) was to go to the cemetery to assist at the ceremony.  She wrote that "The little coffin, or rather reliquary which will contain her bones, will be placed in a large lead-sealed coffin (rosewood), which will be lined with silk as well."  That rosewood coffin is pictured above.  Visit the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux to read Marie's letter.

  • On August 10, 1917, the day the two-day ceremony was completed, someone who was traveling to Caen offered to take another letter from Marie to Leonie.  At the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, read Marie's letter, recounting the events of the day as Celine, who had been at the cemetery, had told them. She mentions that a white ribbon containing the words "I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.  After my death I will let fall a shower of roses" which had been tied around some roses from the Carmel's garden that were placed at the feet of St. Therese during the 1910 exhumation was found intact, the ribbon still white, the letters still gold.  
Posted on Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 11:36PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

100th Anniversary of the Second Exhumation of the Relics of St. Therese of Lisieux (August 9-10, 1917)

The Second Exhumation of the Relics
of St. Therese of Lisieux
August 9 and10th, 1917

from the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux

An eyewitness account of the second exhumation and the recognition of the remains of the Servant of God, Thérèse of the Child Jesus, published by the Diocese of Bayeux on August 15, 1917, five days after the exhumation.

 Translated from Remembrance of the second exhumations and closure of the Apostolic Process of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in the Diocese of Bayeux, not paginated.

     The first exhumation on September 6, 1910, was done under the sole inspiration of His Grace, Bishop Lemonnier, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux.  It consisted solely of putting the unchanged remains back into a new coffin for better preservation.  But before the closing of the Apostolic Process of the Cause of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in order to respond to the rules of the Church, we had to proceed to an anatomical recognition of the bones by doctors under oath.

     For this purpose, Monseigneur the Bishop of Bayeux, accompanied by Monsignor de Teil, Vice-postulator, and members of the Ecclesiastical Court, dressed in choir habit, went to the cemetery in town in the afternoon of August 9, 1917. 

 

Monseigneur Lemonnier, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux,
with Mgr. de Teil, Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus

      We first removed from the small tomb built in 1910 the oak lead coffin which had been deposited at that time and transported it to the cemetery chapel, which the municipality had kindly placed at the service of the priests and the doctors.          

      This translation was not done in the Carmelite Monastery in order to avoid excessive traffic en route, crowds that would have seemed a premature glorification of the Servant of God. For the same purpose, we tried as much as possible to keep the ceremony a secret.  Otherwise, if we had let the news be known, the whole city would have been standing there the next day.  Nevertheless, the news emerged: witness this word by a wounded man in an ambulance drawn by some religious.  “How is it, my sister, that you do not tell us what will happen up there?  Ah! do you not speak of what will happen up there? Ah well! Know that all the crutches will be there!”

     Thus, about 3,000 people were standing for nearly two whole days at the cemetery, where the small Carmelite enclosure modestly sprawls on the hill.  

 “It’s incredible!” naively exclaimed one worker from Lisieux, “Will Liisieux become the capital of the world?” Meanwhile, a dam was erected to maintain the crowd at a respectful distance.  The Director of the Henry Borniol House, whose clever initative had assured the happy success of the 1910 exhumation, again directed the delicate operation of its best workers.

As soon as the large oak coffin, blackened and damaged, appeared on the floor level, Monseigneur the Bishop, yielding to the same inspiration as seven years before, began the psalm "Laudate pueri Dominum," which was continued by the assistants.

Then, amidst an impressive silence, the Bishop, on behalf of the Holy Church, pronounced excommunication against anyone who would dare steal the smallest fragment body, clothing, or coffin of the Servant of God, Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

     Then a procession formed in the most perfect order to accompany the first-class hearse to the mortuary of the cemetery. It was at this precise moment, from the testimony of a privileged few, that there, at the Monastery of Carmel, mysterious scents suddenly spread. On the white sheet that covered the coffin, the Carmelites had to extend the great homespun scapular, recalling the expensive and austere livery of the humble virgin Thérèse.

     The surveillance service was established to stop the enthusiastic acts that could have burst out, until a brave soldier, rushing towards a car, touched his helmet to the casket and piously kissed it.  It was nearly six o’clock when the cemetery chapel, containing the revered remains was sealed closed by Monseigneur the Bishop and the Police Commissioner, to rigorously defend access to it.  Soon a watch of four men of goodwill, in addition to the civil guard, was organized in the tent as an extension of the chapel; amongst them, two licensees on leave, arriving from the front, held it an honor to volunteer themselves on this special evening.

     The following day, August 10, at 3:45 a.m., His Grace Monseigneur Lemonnier, Monseigneur de Teil, the other ecclesiastical officers, and the doctors arrived at the cemetery. A fifth car followed them, carrying two Carmelite nuns who had been authorized by the bishop to leave their enclosure so that they might themselves dispose of the precious bones, once recognized.  The youngest sister of the Servant of God had the opportunity to give Thérèse the last testimony of her tenderness, which had become a veneration.

     Once the lead coffin was opened, we could affirm that the clothing placed seven years ago on the mortal remains of Sister Thérèse, had no more consistency than the former clothing.  It had fallen to lint.  What seemed most remarkable was the perfect conservation of a wide white silk ribbon, still bearing the shiny gold inscription; “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.  After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses.”  This banner adorned with a bouquet of flowers had been laid on the tomb of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus at the end of  August 1910, and the Carmelites had  used it to tie up some roses gathered from their garden and placed it in the casket on September 6.  Is this not a reason tosee this as a survival of the spirit of Sister Thérèse?  Her virginal remains were not, in the designs of divine wisdom, to be exempted from corruption, but this double prophecy, which summarizes her heavenly vocation, was kept intact as a token of hope for those who implore her aid.

        It was moving to see the two prelates and the other priests of the Commission, the highest-ranking diocesan clergy, bent over the poor coffin and taking the smallest parcels of dry bones with a jealous care to present them to the doctors  After having recovered almost all of them, the fraternal hands worked with such religious enthusiasm! to rid them of their earthly part, as one does for a diamond of value, and successively wrapped in cloths of fine linen, tied with silk ribbons. They were deposited in a carved oak box lined with white satin.

       Before affixing the seals of the Bishop of Bayeux and of the Municipality, the Bishop wanted to show the assistants the cover of this pretty casket, where one could see, in the center of the cross entwined with a crown of raised thorns, the effigy of the Holy Face, and the various implements of the Passion, as well as the crest of Mount Carmel.  The NCO licensee, who had spent the night near the chapel, took the cover and visibly moved, made it circulate in the pressing ranks of the spectators.  Many tears flowed when kissing the image of the Savior, and also the homespun scapular. The sacristan of Carmel alone estimated at more than 12,000 the number of objects that the crowd of the faithful begged him to touch, for them, to the bones of the angelic Servant of God.

The rosewood coffin which contained the body of Sister Therese from August 10, 1917 until her body was returned to Carmel on March 26, 1923. Photo credit: Susan Ehlert

        The box, 1m 20 in width, 40 cm in height, and 30, was placed in a lead coffin draped with white cloth,  which was itself enclosed in a rosewood coffin decorated with four finely chilsed silver handles and fourteen screw bolts, themselves made of metal. This very valuable work was offered to the Carmel and to Sister Thérèse by the House of Henri de Borniol. On the top section, sealed with the episcopal coat of arms, one could read the artistically engraved inscription:

 HIC

OSSA ANCILLAE DEI

THERESIAE A PUERO JESU

DEPOSITA SUNT

DIE DECIMA AUGUSTI

MCMXVII

 

HERE

THE BONES OF THE SERVANT OF GOD

THÉRÈSE OF THE CHILD JESUS

WERE DEPOSITED

AUGUST 10

1917

        [In  2008, we reintroduced in this empty box conserved in our archives the lead tube—open--which contained a certificate attesting to the bones of Thérèse, signed by all the participants of the exhumation, including Sister Genevieve and Sister Madeleine of Jesus.]

        Even though the hearse had been kept there, the employees, in the livery of the ceremony, reclaimed the honor of carrying the casket, on their shoulders, back to the burial site. Wreaths of flowers appeared on all sides in the wake of the procession, which advanced majestically under the setting sun of this beautiful day.

     The same order and sympathetic piety recorded the day before kept the event of a private nature and full of a recollected calm. Not to take away this aspect, otherwise required by the rules of the Church, Monsignor Lemonnier refrained from translating aloud his feelings, which were those of all, and the porters desposited their precious burdens in silence, in the brick vault in the shadow of the white cross covered with inscriptions of requests.

     These blessed remains now await the decision of the Holy Church, and from here on, do they not continue to work their good deeds in mystery? The Gospel of August 10,  gently reminded us of this consoling word of Jesus : "If a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it bears much fruit."

     Some incidents, gleaned here and there during these days, helped to make them still more moving, such as the fact of the perfumes already reported, which a military chaplain, among others, perceived on a Friday, around the mortuary.  Citing now the word gathered from the mouths of many, and summing up a general feeling: “Without a doubt, these long hours of waiting in front of a closed chapel are painful, but what does it matter, if we add through this fatigue to the glory of our little saint!”  And yet this cry escaped a poor mother when a gravedigger wanted to prevent her from reaching a board separated from the coffin: “It is clear that you, you do not have a son at the front!”.

     Why not also mention the exclamation of an employee of the train station of Lisieux when he saw the rosewood trunk; “Nothing will ever be too beautiful for Sister Thérèse!”

      When everything seemed finished at the cemetery, Bishop Lemonnier, accompanied by the Ecclesiastical Court, went to the Carmelite Monastery, where before the assembled community, he gave a lecture to recount the events of August 9 and 10. Then they affixed the seals on the remains of the hair and other fragments of the body of the Servant of God, and even the old coffins confided to the discreet custody of the religious. Henceforth, it will no longer be permitted to distribute these intimate souvenirs until a decision of the Holy See assigns them the character of relics, entitling them to the veneration of the faithful.  Anxious, indeed, to ensure the conservation, as complete as possible, of all that remains of the bodies of her saints, the Church, like a Mother full of caution, recognizes, by this means, that she is the only owner and prohibits premature distribution.

     This prohibition may be a matter of real sacrifice for many devotees of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, but may they remember that a simple movement of faith attracts her protection, and let them hope much that her compassionate goodness is always the best way to take her by the heart.

 LICENCE TO PRINT: BAYEUX, AUGUST 15, 1917

THOMAS, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux

[Note:  By the gracious permission of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, this manuscript was translated into English for "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway" in 2010 and edited by Maureen O'Riordan.  We are most grateful to the Archives for their kind permission to make and publish the translation and for the photographs.  Since the original publication of this English translation in 2010, more and bigger photographs of the second exhumation have been published at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.  View these photos of the 1917 exhumation].

 

Posted on Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 11:08PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

"Saint Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church," a book by Steven Payne, O.C.D.

 

"Saint Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church" by Steven Payne, O.C.D.

If you want a full understanding of the significance of St. Therese's being named a Doctor of the Church and how she became one, you will enjoy the book Saint Therese of Lisieux: Doctor of the Universal Church by Steven Payne, O.C.D.  Originally published in 2002, it has lost none of its freshness.  In four compelling chapters the author explains the evolution of the title "Doctor of the Church" and its significance; how Therese became a doctor; the details of the theological examination of her life and writings; and the declaration of Therese as a doctor and its possible theological signifidance.  Reading or re-reading it is a marvelous way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the awarding of the doctorate.  To enter more fully into the anniversary celebration on October 19, 2017, start reading it now.  

To support this site, purchase through the link.  Thank you. 

 

Posted on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 02:37PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

Saint Therese of Lisieux and the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne," July 17, 2017

St. Thérèse of Lisieux
and the Martyred Carmelites of Compiègne

 The martyrdom of the Carmelites of Compiegne in Paris, 1794. Photo credit: Wikipedia

 On July 17, 1794, sixteen nuns of the Carmel of Compiègne (the whole community, except three who were away at the time of the arrest) were guillotined in Paris.  They had offered their lives for God’s peace in the world and for those in prison, and they went to their deaths as to a wedding, chanting of God's mercy. Ten days after their execution, the Reign of Terror ended.  Read their story online in Regina Magazine or read To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne.[1]  In this article I explore the bond between the Carmel of Lisieux and that of Compiègne and the influence of the martyrs on St. Thérèse.

1835-1838: Refounding the Carmel of Compiègne and Founding the Lisieux Carmel

Mother Camille de SoyecourtA short-lived attempt to restore the Carmel of Compiègne began in 1835, led by the tireless Mother Camille de Soyecourt of the Carmel of the rue de Vaugirard in Paris.  After the French Revolution, Mother Camille did much to bring about the rebirth of Carmel in France.  Compiègne is in the province of Picardy.  Because Mother Camille had contributed nuns for the refoundation of Compiègne, she was one of six Carmelite prioresses who had to refuse to send nuns for a new monastery in Lisieux.  Fr. Nicholas Sauvage, the priest who was to establish the Carmelite foundation in Lisieux, had several young candidates and was searching for experienced nuns (“foundresses”) to join them.  He wrote to Mother Camille de Soyecourt, who answered about January 1837 that she had furnished nuns for the refounding of Compiègne and had no other sisters to spare.[2]  (The Carmel of Poitiers opened its doors to Père Sauvage’s candidates.  In 1838, when they were ready to make their vows, Poitiers sent the foundresses, including Mother Genevieve of St. Thérèse, with whom St. Thérèse lived for almost four years, with the new nuns to found the first Carmel of Lisieux).[3] 

That first refounding of the Compiègne Carmel was short-lived.  During the revolution of 1848, the nuns had to return to their Carmels of origin.  In 1866 nuns from Troyes settled in a temporary house in Compiègne; the monastery was completed in 1872, and the chapel inaugurated in 1888, the year Thérèse entered the Carmel of Lisieux.   In 1992 the Carmelites of Compiègne moved to the nearby village of Jonquières.[4]

1870-1871: Sister Fébronie of the Holy Childhood, a Carmelite of Lisieux, lived with the Carmelites of Compiègne

Sister Fébronie (1820-1892) entered the Lisieux Carmel on January 15, 1842.  Due to the exigencies of the Franco-Prussian war, she spent several months in 1870-1871 with the Carmelite nuns of Compiègne in Rennes.  The war threw Normandy into a panic. The families of some nuns asked to take their daughters home to keep them safe.  Three nuns, including Sister Fébronie, left Lisieux at the end of September 1870; four others, including St. Thérèse’s future prioress, Marie de Gonzague, left in January 1871.[4a]  Sister Fébronie declined her father’s offer of shelter in his home in Rennes.  Instead, no doubt to continue her Carmelite life, she sought refuge at the Carmel of Rennes, which had already taken in all the Carmelites of Compiègne.  At the end of January 1871 the armistice was signed, and by March 19, 1871, the seven nuns who had fled had returned to Lisieux.[5]  Sister Fébronie always maintained a lively friendship with the nuns of Compiègne.  She was subprioress when she died in the flu epidemic on January 4, 1892, and  Thérèse, who had worked with her for several years, assisted her in her last moments.  Her prioress, Mother Agnes, wrote in her death notice:

Many times in letters she left, we could see how she edified one of our dear Carmels intimately united with ours, where in a particular situation she had spent several months. Learning of her sudden death a few weeks ago, we received from the Reverend Mother Prioress a new proof of a good remembrance that they have of her in that beloved Community.[6]

The Carmel “intimately united with ours” could have been Rennes, but it seems much more likely to have been Compiègne.  Later, on April 23, 1896, Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote to the prioress of Compiègne

… I do not need to remind you, Mother, of our fraternal union. You know how strongly it is cemented by our dear Sister Fébronie, who is and will be remembered so reverently by present and future generations.[7]

1888:  The origin of the religious name of Sr. Thérèse of St. Augustine of Lisieux

When Thérèse Martin entered in April 1888, her life was touched by a nun whose religious name derived from that of Madame Lidoine, the martyred prioress of the Compiègne Carmel, known in religion as Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine. (The feast of the blessed martyrs is listed as “Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine and companions, martyrs”).  Madame Lidoine, in turn, had been named for the first Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine, “Madame Louise,” a princess of France, the daughter of King Louis XV, who entered the Carmel of Saint-Denis in 1770.  On June 19, 1873, when Thérèse Martin was five months old, the decree for the introduction of Madame Louise's cause for sainthood was issued. [8] 

Sister Thérèse of St. Augustine of Lisieux was the nun whom St. Thérèse said “had the faculty of displeasing me in everything.”

1894: The two Thérèses help to decorate the chapel of Compiègne for the centenary of the martyrdom

The centenary of the martyrdom, which fell on July 17, 1894, led to much excitement in the French Carmels and to a shift in public opinion about the Carmelites of Compiègne. For this occasion the Carmel of Compiègne had asked all the Carmels in France to help them decorate their chapel.  No doubt because of her religious name, Sister Thérèse of St. Augustine was assigned to work with the future Saint Thérèse on this project.  In Thérèse’s diocesan process Sister Thérèse of St. Augustine testified; 

I witnessed the zeal, the devotion that she demonstrated on this occasion. She couldn’t contain herself for joy, and said “How happy we would be if we could have the same fate! What a grace that would be!”[9]

A photo of the chapel at Compiègne on this occasion appears in Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux: La vie en images.[10] The banners created by the Lisieux Carmel are seen in the nave.  

In 1896, the Lisieux Carmel prays successfully to the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne for healings that might advance the beatification

The cause of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne was very much “current news” in the time of St. Thérèse, and the Carmel of Lisieux was fervently devoted to the martyrs and eager to assist their cause.  The cause was opened at the diocesan level in 1896.  This probably happened early in the year, for on April 23, 1896, Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote to the prioress of the Carmel of Compiègne to report two healing that had taken place after the Carmelites of Lisieux had prayed to “our Holy Martyrs.”  Each concerned a blood relative of a Carmelite of Lisieux.  The first sick man was a dying captain, the father of three young children.  He was the cousin of Mother Marie of the Angels, Thérèse’s novice mistress; he had had no hope of recovery.  After the nuns prayed to the martyrs of Compiègne and to the Blessed Virgin, he was cured.  The second was a young girl in England, the niece of one of the Lisieux Carmelites, who was in terrible pain after an operation on her foot.  After the Carmelites prayed to the martyrs of Compiègne, she was able to walk again.  The letter suggests that the Carmelites of Lisieux had asked for a novena, perhaps a novena of Masses, at Compiègne and that Mother Gonzague is sending an offering for it.[11] 

Read Mother Gonzague’s letter to the prioress of the Compiègne Carmel at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux. [12]

September 1896 - Msgr Roger de Teil, Vice-Postulator for the Carmelites of Compiègne and Thérèse’s future vice-postulator, speaks to the Carmelites of Lisieux about the cause of the martyrs

Early in September 1896 (before September 7th), Msgr Roger de Teil, who had been appointed vice-postulator for the cause of the martyrs and was touring the French Carmels, arrived at Lisieux to speak and to ask the nuns to pray that a miracle might be worked at the intercession of their martyred sisters to permit their beatification.  He addressed the community in the speakroom

Shortly after the death of Msgr. de Teil in 1922, Thérèse’s sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, recalls his presentation and her sister’s reaction:

Even during the lifetime of our Venerable, Mgr de  Teil entered into relations with our Carmel. Then he gathered together all the necessary documents for the Process of our Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne and delivered an enthusiastic conference to the community.  In leaving the speakroom, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus said to us, very much edified, “Isn’t he touching and zealous, the Postulator!  How one would wish to be able to report to him miracles worked by our Martyrs of whom he speaks with such great affection.”[13] 

Thérèse is said to have remarked that, with such a vice-postulator, the Carmelites of Compiègne would surely be raised to the altars soon.[14]  How could she have guessed that Msgr de Teil would be appointed vice-postulator for her own cause and that she would be canonized first?  (The cause of the blessed martyrs remains open).  During his conference Msgr de Teil said “If any of you who are listening to me have the intention of being canonized, please have pity on the poor vice-postulator and work plenty of miracles!” . . . .  Msgr. de Teil’s comment, years later, was “Soeur Thérèse, obedient child, did precisely as she was told.”[15]  In 1899 Msgr de Teil would read Thérèse’s Story of a Soul and speak very favorably of it.[16]

In 1909, at the request of Mother Marie-Ange of the Child Jesus, then prioress of Carmel, Bishop Lemonnier appointed Msgr. de Teil, a distinguished canon lawyer who was then a canon of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, as vice-postulator for the cause of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. (He was also postulator for Madame Louise of France, for the martyrs of September 1894, and for Pius IX).[17]  He shepherded  Thérèse’s cause until his death just a year before she was beatified.

September 1896:  The Carmelite community at Lisieux offers novenas to the martyrs of Compiègne and seeks  a relic for the cure of their Sister Marie-Antoinette

A few days later, at the request of Mother Gonzague, Mother Marie of the Angels, Thérèse’s novice mistress, wrote to the prioress of Compiègne asking for “a little relic of our holy Mother Martyrs” to place on the body of Sister Marie-Antoinette, a young turn-sister who was dying of tuberculosis.  She had returned from Lourdes without a cure “and is nothing but a walking skeleton.”  The Carmelites were “trying a second novena to our Mother Martyrs” and “having a novena of Masses said so that her miraculous healing might favour the beatification of our holy Mothers.”  Mother Marie of the Angels writes “we recently heard Father de Teil, who informed us of his progress, his desires. How happy we would be if the miracle we are soliciting could recompense his zeal and dedication.”[18] 

Read the letter of Mother Marie of the Angels to the prioress of Compiègne at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Sister Marie Antoinette was not cured; she died November 4, 1896.

These martyrs of the French Revolution would naturally have appealed to Thérèse, the granddaughter of two soldiers of Napoleon.  But Msgr. de Teil’s visit stimulated her devotion to the Carmelites of Compiègne.  “After that date, she had for these martyrs a great veneration.”[19]  Her encounter with Msgr. de Teil reactivated in Thérèse what she wrote a few days later to Marie of the Sacred Heart in her famous “Manuscript B:” “Martyrdom was the dream of my youth, and this dream has grown with me within Carmel’s cloisters.”

Saint Thérèse treasured images of the Carmelites of Compiègne

Saint Thérèse kept three holy cards with images of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne.  In her breviary she kept a holy card made from a photograph of a tableau painted a little before the centenary in 1894 by Mother Marie of Jesus of Leindre [sic], a Carmelite of Compiègne.[20]  View Thérèse’s holy card of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne.  

The painting is now at Jonquières, where the Carmelites of Compiègne moved in 1992.[21]

Thérèse had two copies of the other holy card, which listed the name of each nun and her place of birth, with a short account of their martyrdom and a prayer for their beatification.  I believe that this card was probably distributed in 1896 when the cause was opened.  This image accompanied Thérèse to the infirmary in July 1897.  She placed it in her little “book of graces at the table," which was constantly by her.  She kept the second image, which was exactly the same, in the volume of John of the Cross she had in the infirmary (the Spiritual Canticle followed by the Living Flame of Love).[22] That these images accompanied her into the little infirmary where she died confirms that her devotion to these martyrs, made stronger in September 1896,  remained fervent until her death a year later. 

See the image of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne cherished by St. Thérèse at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

July 17, 1897.  Was St. Thérèse’s famous remark about her posthumous mission inspired by the Carmelites of Compiègne?

According to Last Conversations, on Saturday, July 17, 1897,  Thérèse coughed up blood.  Her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, writes that she said these words:

I feel that I'm about to enter into my rest. But I feel especially that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love Him, of giving my little way to souls. If God answers my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. This isn't im­possible, since from the bosom of the beatific vision, the angels watch over us.

"I can't make heaven a feast of rejoicing; I can't rest as long as there are souls to be saved. But when the angel will have said: 'Time is no more!'" then I will take my rest; I'll be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete and because all will have entered into joy and repose. My heart beats with joy at this thought.[23][24]

An early version of Thérèse’s reported words was the “green notebook” prepared by her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus.  The typescript of the green notebook mentions, after the words quoted above, only Pauline’s notation “I observed that July 17 was the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Carmelites of Compiègne.”  Bishop Gaucher asks:

Was it a coincidence that the announcement of Thérèse’s posthumous mission took place on the feast of her martyred sisters? Perhaps.  But one can read here also the extraordinary fruitfuless of the hidden life, of the martyrdom of love to which Thérèse always aspired, of suffering offered for the salvation of the world.[25]

But there is more.  Bishop Gaucher notes that the penciled lines on the handwritten “green notebook,” lines sadly erased in part, go beyond the typescript.  The words “Sister Constance” and “novice” can still be seen.  Sister Constance, born Marie-Genevieve Meunier, was the youngest of the martyrs.  Shortly before she was eligible to make profession, the government passed a law forbidding the taking of religious vows, so, after six years in Carmel, she was still a novice.  She was the first to die, after having made her vows at the foot of the scaffold.  It was she who, mounting the scaffold, uddenly began to chant Psalm 117, the psalm Teresa of Avila had chanted whenever she made a new foundation:

Praise the Lord, all ye nations!

Praise Him, all ye peoples!

For His mercy is confirmed upon us,

And the truth of the Lord endureth forever.

The other nuns intoned the psalm with Sister Constance, and the chanting of the psalm continued, voice after voice cut short, until the last nun was executed.[26]

Bishop Gaucher asks:

Isn’t it plausible that Thérèse had been struck by this novice, the first offered?  She who remained in the novitiate her whole life, she who loved the young saints so well, did she not envy the fate of her young sister?[27]

June 6, 1905: The brief for the beatification of the martyred Carmelites of Compiègne and a petition for the opening of Thérèse’s cause

Pope Leo XIII, of whom Thérèse had begged permission to enter Carmel, declared the Carmelites of Compiègne venerable in 1902.[28]

Despite the immense popularity of St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul, the Carmelites did not think of her canonization.  But petitions arrived from many countries asking for her cause to be opened.  Then, on June 6, 1905, Pope St. Pius X, who would soon call St. Thérèse “the greatest saint of modern times,” promulgated the brief of beatification for the martyred Carmelites of Compiègne.[29]  On that same evening the Lisieux Carmel received a petition with 53 signatures from the seminary of Tournai in Belgium with  asking them to introduce Thérèse’s cause.  “The Carmelites could not help but see a sign in this coincidence.  It seemed to them that the Carmelites of Compiègne were asking them to work for the glorification of their little sister.”[30]

St. Thérèse had always had a special love for many young martyrs: St. Agnes, St. Cecilia, St. Joan of Arc, Theophane Venard . . . In offering herself as a victim of holocaust to Merciful Love, she prayed to “become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!”  She wrote that “the martyrdom of the heart is not less fruitful than the pouring out of one’s blood.”  If the martyrs of Compiègne, who shed their blood for the faith, asked their sisters of Lisieux to work for the canonization of Thérèse, the martyr of love, might the Church one day recognize St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a martyr?

Further reading:

 To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne, by William Bush

 _________________________________________________________________________________

[1] by William Bush.  (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1999).

[2] Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/17/16

[3] Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/17/16

[4] Catholiques de Compiègne - Carmel de Jonquières, accessed 7/18/16

4a.  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/23/16

[5]  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux,  accessed  7/18/16

[6]  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/18/16

[7]   Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux accessed 7/16/16

[8]   Documentation supplied by the Carmel of Compiegne.  Also:  To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne, by William Bush.  (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1999), seriatim. 

[9]   Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/16/16

[10] Pierre Descouvement and Helmut-Nils Loose.  Paris: Editions du Cerf [Orphelins Apprentis d’Auteuil – Office Central de Lisieux – Novalis], 1991, p. 341. 

[11]  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux,  accessed 7/16/16

[12]  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux accessed 7/17/16

[13] Quoted and cited in Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., “Thérèse de Lisieux, des seize martyres de Compiègne, et Georges Bernanos,”  Bulletin de la Société historique de Compiègne, Bulletin No. B34 (Les Carmelites de Compiègne), 1995, p. 146.  Accessed 7/17/16.  My translation.

[14] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Life, Times, and Teaching, ed. Conrad De Meester, O.C.D., in chapter 14, “Thérèse’s Universal Influence,” by Pierre Descouvement and Raymond Zambelli, (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1997), p. 259. 

[15] Storm of Glory, by John Beevers.  Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Image Books, 1955, p. 118.

[16] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Life, Times, and Teaching, ed. Conrad De Meester, O.C.D., in chapter 14, “Thérèse’s Universal Influence,” by Pierre Descouvement and Raymond Zambelli, (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1997), p. 256.

[17] Gaucher, “Thérèse de Lisieux, des seize martyres de Compiègne, et Georges Bernanos,”  op. cit., p. 146, accessed 7/17/16.

[18]  Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, accessed 7/17/16

[19] Letter of Mother Marie-Ange of the Child Jesus to Msgr. de Teil, 22 January 1909, quoted and cited in Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux (1873-1897) by Guy Gaucher, O.C.D.  Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2010, p. 404.  My translation.

[20] Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux: La vie en images, Pierre Descouvement and Helmut-Nils Loose.  Paris: Editions du Cerf [Orphelins Apprentis d’Auteuil – Office Central de Lisieux – Novalis], 1991, p. 340.

[21]  Catholiques de Compiègne - Carmel de Jonquières, accessed 7/17/16

[22] Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux: La vie en images, op. cit., pp. 338-339. 

[23] St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations, ed. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, p. 102.

[24] Last Conversations (reported words of Thérèse) cannot be held on a level with Thérèse’s writings.  But Thérèse’s letter of July 14, 1897 to her spiritual brother, Fr. Adolphe Roulland, expresses similar desires. Letters of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Vol. II (1890-1897), tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, 1988, p. 1142.

[25] Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., ‘Thérèse de Lisieux, des seize martyres de Compiègne, et Georges Bernanos.”  op. cit., p. 148, accessed 7/17/16.  My translation.

[26] To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne, op. cit., seriatim.

[27]  Quoted and cited in Guy Gaucher, ‘Thérèse de Lisieux, des seize martyres de Compiègne, et Georges Bernanos,” op. cit., p. 149, accessed 7/17/16)

[28] The Tablet, July 8, 1905, accessed 7/17/16. 

[29] They would be beatified on May 27, 1906, the first martyrs of the French revolution

[30] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Life, Times, and Teaching, op. cit., p. 258.

Copyright 2016 by Maureen O'Riordan.  All rights reserved.