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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

of the Holy Face

Entries in Doctor of the Church (5)

Meditation on "Therese, a Doctor for the Third Millennium," the 1997 circular letter to the Carmelite Family about the proclamation of St. Therese as a Doctor of the Church


Statue of St. Therese near the entrance of the Lisieux Carmel

As we draw near to the 20th anniversary of the day (October 19, 1997) when Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Therese a Doctor of the Church, I invite you to reflect on the joint pastoral letter written by the general superiors of the two branches of the Carmelite family, Fr. Camilo Maccise, O.C.D. and Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O. Carm.  Because the letter is extremely rich, we will look at it in sections.  If you want to read the whole letter at once, you may do so, thanks to the Carmelites of Eldridge, Iowa, at "Therese: A Doctor for the Third Millennium."  I am most grateful to the nuns of the Eldridge Carmel for making this meditation feasible. 

The authors introduce their letter by evoking the Pope's announcement at World Youth Day, August 24, 1997, that he would name St. Therese a Doctor of the Church in October.  They then give a brief history of the movement and process of Therese's doctorate, and spend most of the letter reflecting on the significance for the women and men of our times of her being named a doctor.  Today, please meditate on their introduction: 

Dear brothers and sisters in Carmel:

1. Little over a year ago, we wrote to you to reflect upon the message of our sister, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, on the occasion of the centenary of her death. We had no idea then that we would be writing another circular letter about her so soon. This time it is to consider the meaning and significance of the title Doctor of the Church, which, as Pope John Paul II announced recently in Paris at the International Gathering of Youth, he will officially bestow on her in Rome on October 19, 1997, International Mission Sunday.

2. On the morning of August 24, at the closure in Paris of the International Gathering of Youth, the Pope described the character and doctrine of our sister and the motives for declaring her a Doctor after a "careful study" and many petitions received from the Universal Church. He called Thérèse of Lisieux a young Carmelite who was filled with the love of God, who offered herself completely to this love, and who knew how to practice love of neighbor in the ordinary things of daily life. She imitated Jesus as she sat at the table of sinners, his brothers and sisters, so that they would be purified by love, since her ardent desire was to see everyone enlightened by faith. She discovered, the Pope continued, that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church, and she walked the "little way" of children who take refuge in God with bold confidence. The core of her message is her child-like attitude, which can be proposed to all the faithful. "Her teachings, a veritable science of love," are the radiant expression of her knowledge of the mystery of Christ and her personal experience of grace. She will continue to assist the people of today and the future to understand better the gifts of God and to spread the good news of infinite love.

3. The Pope called her: "a Carmelite and an apostle, a teacher of spiritual wisdom for numerous consecrated and lay persons, patroness of the missions." He mentioned that she "occupies a place of primary importance in the Church, and that her doctrine merits finding a place among the most effective." He concluded by stating that he wished to announce the Doctorate of Thérèse of Lisieux during the gathering of the youth since she, a young saint, so close to our times, has a message particularly suitable for them. In the school of the Gospel, she leads the way towards Christian maturity for young people, "calling them to unlimited generosity and inviting them in the heart of the Church to be apostles and ardent witnesses of Christ's love." He prayed, along with the young people, to Thérèse of Lisieux that she may lead the people of this age along the way of truth and life. He ended his discourse with these words: "With Thérèse of the Child Jesus, let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom she honored and prayed to with child-like confidence during her life."

A film of the veil St. Therese wore for her audience with the Pope, and an interview with Fr. Francois-Marie Lethel, O.C.D. (with English voice-over) about St. Therese as a doctor of the Church 

 Advance to 21:27 of the October 14, 2014 episode of EWTN's "Vaticano" to see four minutes of film of the Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Rome, where the black lace veil the fourteen-year-old Therese wore for her audience with the Pope on November 20, 1887 is on display.  The veil was made by her mother, Blessed Zelie Martin, who was a manufacturer of point d'Alencon lace.  This is followed by a filmed interview with the French Carmelite friar Fr. Francois-Marie Lethel, O.C.D., who was engaged in the ecclesial proceedings that led to St. Therese's being named a Doctor of the Church in 1997.  He reflects on the significance of her doctorate.  Fr. Lethel preached the Lenten retreat to Pope Benedict and his household in 2011, and this is a rare chance for the English-speaking world to hear his thoughts on St. Therese. 

Note that this church ceased to be a parish church in 2011, but many people still visit it out of devotion to St. Therese.  If you're in Rome and want to visit it, it is known as the "Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Panfilo," in the Princiano Quarter, and is located at Via Gaspare Spontini 17 in Rome.  See a map.  The church's Facebook page.  More information about the Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Rome.

17th anniversary of St. Therese of Lisieux being named a Doctor of the Church on October 19, 1997

bronze statue stands in niche of chapel against gold background.  St. Therese has an image of the Holy Face emblazoned on her breast.  In her right hand she holds the doctoral biretta.  A child on the ground reaches up, offering her a rose.Statue of St. Therese as a Doctor of the Church, Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia. In her right hand she holds the biretta, the symbol of the doctorate.

To celebrate this anniversary, please visit St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Universal Church  There you can see "The Science of Divine Love," the Apostolic Letter of St. John Paul II naming St. Therese a Doctor of the Church; his homily at the Doctoral Mass; an interview about Therese's doctorate with "Therese's bishop," Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., who died July 3, 2014; and other fascinating speeches, documents, and articles on this subject.

If you're especially interested in Therese's doctorate, please see Therese of Lisieux: Doctor of the Church - A Study of the Cause, Process, and Proclamation of October 19, 199 , a master's thesis by Mary Ellen Malolepszy that is available online.

Today, considering that St. Therese is a Doctor of the Church, I am struck by the lines she wrote to her priest-brother, Adolphe Roulland, on May 9, 1897:

.At times, when I am reading certain spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown through a thousand obstacles, surround­ed by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires; I close the learned book that is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons, perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one's nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God's arms.

 She is truly the doctor of the poor and the simple, showing that God can make Scripture "luminous" for the soul and can inspire us without the need for learned books.  

Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2014 at 01:59PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan in , | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

Video (1:22) of the ceremony at which St. John Paul II named St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church, October 19, 1997

See St. John Paul II naming St. Therese a doctor of the Church before the vast crowd in St. Peter's Square; hear him say, in French, her famous words "My vocation, at last I have found it!  My vocation is love," and see women from different countries casting rose petals on her reliquary.  Thanks to

Pope Benedict XV names St. Hildegarde of Bingen and St. John of Avila doctors of the Church


On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named St. Hildegarde of Bingen and St. John of Avila doctors of the Church, the first doctors named during his papacy.  He described Hildegarde:

“Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her
precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority.”

The Pope described John:

“A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary
spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption
worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action.”

The video of the Romereports story is above; see the text here.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, until now the most recently named doctor of the Church, was the only person named a doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II during his twenty-five years as Popel  She was the third woman doctor, so Saint Hildegarde is the fourth.