On August 9, 1942, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was martyred in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. Her legacy remains.
Edith Stein was an intellectual, a philosopher. She worked as a nursing assistant during the First World War, and later earned a doctorate in philosophy. Edith became an atheist, having no use for religion in her teenage years and into young womanhood. She was preoccupied by her studies, by science, by philosophy, by the Great War, by life. She felt no need for God or the things of God. In other words, she was much like many young, well-educated people today, fully-absorbed with life and unconcerned with eternal life.
Yet through seemingly insignificant encounters, God began calling her into a life in the spirit. She happened upon a woman praying in the Frankfurt Cathedral and was impressed by the piety of Christians who visit churches even when nothing special is going on. She visited the widow of a dear friend who had died in combat in Flanders and was amazed at the young woman’s profound faith and her faith-filled resignation. Edith remarked:
God had opened the door to Edith’s mind and heart.
A few years later, at a friend’s house, Edith found a copy of the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila and stayed up through the night to read it. Edith knew then that she had found the truth. She was baptized only months later, on January 1, 1922. Still, the Lord had not finished with her transformation.
Because of her keen intellect, her sense of wonder, her love for learning and the pursuit of truth, she came to know and love God. That knowledge made Edith want to know more, want to love more, and want to give her all for him. She desired to give to God her mind, her gifts, her energy, her heart. Edith felt drawn to the Discalced Carmelite Order, but delayed an immediate move toward religious life, out of respect for her mother who had been deeply hurt by Edith’s conversion to Catholicism.
In 1933, however, Edith lost her teaching position when the Nazis sought to purge the civil service of all non-Aryans. She then entered the Carmel in Cologne and took the name Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she was drawn to the life and spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux. These early years as a Carmelite in Europe would be the beginning of Sister Teresa Benedicta’s own share in the cross of Christ. The persecution of Jews was beginning.
With the “election” of Hitler in 1938, the persecution of Jews became more systematic and more open. In 1938, her Carmelite superior in Cologne transferred St. Teresa Benedicta and her sister, Rosa (who had also become Catholic as was a Carmelite extern) to a Carmel in Echt, Holland to get them out of harm’s way.
St. Teresa Benedicta penned a prophetic “testament” on June 6, 1939, in which she wrote:
Since you are here…
…we’d like to have one more word with you. We are excited to report that Aleteia’s readership is growing at a rapid rate, world-wide! Our team proves its mission every day by providing high-quality content that informs and inspires a Christian life. But quality journalism has a cost and it’s more than ads can cover. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge, but we need your help. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable. Become an Aleteia Patron today for as little as $3 a month. May we count on you?