Sister Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face
as a novice of Lisieux Carmel
"The martyrdom is beginning.
Let us go into the arena together."
- January 10, 1889 - September 8, 1890
Therese received the habit on January 10, 1889. On that day added to her religious name the words "of the Holy Face." She began her canonical year of novitiate, which was extended until September 8, 1890. Several days later a photograph of Therese in her new habit was taken in the convent courtyard. On February 12, 1889, her father, who had suffered some strokes and delusions, was confined to the Bon Sauveur Asylum at Caen, where he would remain for more than three years. On February 28, 1889, Therese wrote to Celine, "Ah! dear little Sister, far from complaining to Jesus about the Cross He is sending us, I cannot understand the infinite love that has drawn Him to treat us in this way. . . . Our dear Father must be much loved by Jesus to have to suffer this way, but don't you find that the misfortune that is striking him is really the complement of his beautiful life?" 1 This period of Therese's life was deeply marked by the great trial of her father's illness; looking at his loved face, Therese saw the Face of her suffering Spouse. Her devotion to the Holy Face deepened throughout the rest of her life.
A novice's hair was usually cut a few months after her Clothing. Because Therese was still only sixteen, this operation was being put off. Pauline recounts that Therese insisted with Mother Gonzague in such a way that permission was given her. "Then she came looking for me to perform this operation, but I was not happy. "Wait," I told her, "you are too young, we don't know what will happen." Finally I gave in to her insistence, thinking I would please her. I was wrong. She looked silently at the magnificent head of hair that had fallen into my hands, and when I asked her what she was thinking, she said "I think I am happy for having made this sacrifice for Jesus. I was eager to give Him my hair."
As a novice Therese was assigned to work in the refectory; she also swept the corridors. On December 25, 1889, the lease of Les Buissonnets was broken. Louis Martin was still in the Bon Sauveur asylum, and Leonie and Celine now lived with their aunt and uncle. On Christmas Eve Celine sent Therese two ivy leaves from their old home's garden, writing "The little ivy leaf was detached from Les Buissonnets, but it will wrap itself around Jesus!"1 On New Year's Eve Therese wrote to Celine: "The year which is just running out was good, yes, it was precious for heaven, and may the one that will follow resemble it! . . . . Our New Year's Day is very sad this year, and it's with a heart filled with memories that I'm going to watch, waiting for midnight . . . . I remember everything . . . . now we are orphans, but we can say with love, 'Our Father, Who art in heaven." Yes, there still remains to us the only All of our souls."2
In January 1890, just after her seventeenth birthday, Therese was eligible to make Profession, but, to placate Canon Delatroette, she had to wait for another eight months. During the year she meditated on the text of Isaiah about the Suffering Servant, and she read the works of St. John of the Cross. On September 2, 1890, at her canonical examination before her vows, she was asked why she had come to Carmel. She answered "I have come to save souls, and especially to pray for priests." On September 8, at a private ceremony in the chapter room, she made her vows, "flooded by a river of peace."
1 Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Volume I, 1877-1890, tr. John Clarke, OCD. ICS Publications, 1982, p. 599
2 Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Volume I, 1877-1890, tr. John Clarke, OCD. ICS Publications, 1982, p. 601