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When St. Therese dressed up as Joan of Arc (and the sad story of the photo)


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Sarah Robsdottir - published on 10/19/21

A reminder that God can use even our worst humiliations for his glory.

I met up with an old friend on St. Therese’s feast day. He introduced me to his 4-year-old daughter:

“Meet Joan Therese!” he beamed. 

I just happened to be wearing my favorite Joan of Arc t-shirt.

“No way!” I exclaimed, “She’s named after Joan and Therese?!” 

A fun conversation ensued — two converts geeking out over a few of their favorite saints: Therese, a cloistered nun who gained notoriety at the end of the 19th century for her simple spirituality, a path to sanctity called “the little way” as described in her biography.

And Joan of Arc, the teenage warrior who lived a couple of hundred years before, whose mission was — unlike Therese’s — very public. Specifically, this 17-year-old was the youngest person ever (of either sex) to command an army. No wonder Joan has captured the fascination of painters, writers, historians and many others, and of course, middle-aged moms like me. 

“Did you know St. Therese had a serious devotion to Joan of Arc?” My friend said as he pushed his beautiful daughter on the swing. Her hair, white as cornsilk, caught on the breeze. “Therese wrote a play and a few poems about Joan — actually, we have a photo of Therese dressed up as Joan of Arc in our playroom.”      

I was fascinated — not just by the idea of this photo, which was snapped by Therese’s sister Celine; one I only vaguely remembered — but by the concept of one saint venerating another (just as I venerate both of them).

I drove home and did some research. I learned that St. Therese did, in fact, revere Joan of Arc, relating especially to Joan’s time in prison as Therese suffered from the illness that eventually took her life.

I also discovered the lesser-known sad story surrounding the mentioned “dress up” photo, which is explained in this book but also especially well by Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble on Instagram (summarized):

Apparently, a man named Leo Taxil [a prominent anti-Catholic voice at the time] published a number of autobiographies featuring Freemason conversions to Catholicism. The most popular was an autobiography of “Diana Vaughan,” whose conversion she said was influenced by Joan of Arc. Diana’s story was wildly popular and made it inside the [convent’s] walls. Thérèse loved her story and sent Diana this photo of her playing Joan of Arc.

In April of 1897, Leo Taxil called a press conference and revealed to the crowd of 400 people that he was Diana Vaughan. The entire thing was a ruse to demonstrate the gullibility of French Catholics. His prop that evening? A giant projected picture of this photograph of Thérèse, a symbol of the naive religious person. It was a terrible humiliation for Thérèse. She tore up the letter she had received from “Diana.”

Months later, Thérèse would face death. As death approached, she struggled with a great darkness, living the experience of those who do not believe. Certainly this experience was informed by her recent great humiliation. But Thérèse bravely offered this “bread of sorrow” for those who do not believe. Despite her bitter trials, she knew that Light was on the other side of darkness.

I read the above account of St. Therese’s humiliation surrounding this famous photo and my heart broke for her. But at the same time, I thought of the little girl I met at the park, Joan Therese, and how the same awesome photo is now displayed in her playroom over 100 years later — oh, the dress-up games with nuns’ habits and foam swords that picture surely inspires!

Psalm 30 came to mind, how God turns our “mourning into dancing,” and I couldn’t help but ponder a few recent trials in my life that have left me stewing in humiliation. I printed out the photo and taped it to the fridge. 

Sts. Joan of Arc and Therese, pray for us! 

SaintsSpiritual LifeTherese of Lisieux
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