[News]  [Addresses] [Carmelite sites]  
Secretariat of Missions: ocdmis@pcn.net + FAX ++39 06 85443212

News   -  16  ( 28.07.2007 )

Eightieth Anniversary
of St. Thérèse

as Patroness of the Missions

December 14, 1927– 2007


Dámaso Zuazua, ocd,

General Secretary of the Missions


"Let me assure you - in the name of the constant tradition of the Church - that your life not only proclaims the Absoluteness of God, but also has a wonderful and mysterious power of spiritual fruitfulness”.   - John Paul II. Lisieux, June 2 1980


On December 14, 1927 the Congregation of Rites published a degree, by a decision of Pius XI, declaring that St. Thérèse of Lisieux was the special patroness of both men and women missionaries. She was given this title “equal to St. Francis Xavier, with all the rights and privileges that went with this title.”[1] They were rights and privileges of the liturgical cult.

In this way St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the greatest missionary in the Church after St. Paul, shared his title of heavenly protection of the Missions with the Carmelite Saint of Lisieux. From the time she entered Carmel (at the age of 15 years and three months) until her death Thérèse never left her Carmel. St. Francis Xavier, had already been declared since 1748, "Patron of all the lands to the east of the Cape of Good Hope”[2], and in 1904 he was named “Patron of the Work of the Propagation of the Faith.”[3] Isn’t there an invitation to make a deeper reflection on this “patronal brotherhood”? Someone questioned: “Does not this very fact of the two patrons put together have a message to us today?”[4]


1.   First considerations


Among the numerous titles that the Church has granted to St. Thérèse, the one for the Missions is the most attractive, more so than her recent ecclesiastical doctorate (1997). It is amazing that she was compared with the holy Jesuit, who had a reputation of mythological proportions in evangelizing the East. His spiritual principle had been: To “love those people to whom we are sent and to make ourselves loved by them.” Thérèse of the Infant Jesus, Patroness of the Missions, was named without having ever left the convent, without ever having gone to a missionary land. But the motto of her monastic life was: “To love Jesus and to make him loved.”[5] She consecrated herself whole heartedly to this task: “Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of your love draws with her all the treasures she possesses.. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine; it is You who entrusted these treasures to me.”[6] It is a declaration that reflects Thérèse’s missionary awareness. This spirit embraces, guides and gives sense to her whole life.

This message had been well understood in Carmel and in the Church. Before being designated as Universal Patroness of the Missions, four and a half years earlier, just Beatified on April 30 1923, she had already been declared Patroness of the Carmelite Missions. The current came before. But the waters came after. Already in 1921 in the magazine “Carmel and its Missions” said: “Since the eminent missionary spirit of our sister, Sr. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus, is known by all, it is natural that, after Our Holy Mother Teresa, we can confide to her soul all our missionary works. To you, then little Flower transplanted in Carmel, who has taken so many souls to Jesus, we entrust to you the dear Missions, our missionaries, this magazine, their collaborators, their readers, all those that want to alleviate the multiple necessities of your brothers, far from family and homeland.”[7]

One month later, again in 1921, the same Italian Carmelite missionary magazine inserted an article on “The little patroness of the Missions.” Comparing her with St. Teresa of Jesus, we “affirm that her great heart [that of Teresa of Jesus] had to exult when she saw well reproduced in this way her own apostolic zeal in the spirit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who could be defined as the miniature of the great Teresa from Avila.”[8]

At the ecclesiastical level on July 29 1926, Pius XI declared her to be the Patroness of the Indigenous Clergy or of the Papal Missionary Work of St. Peter the Apostle.[9] In this statement he showed the clear will of the Church to remind the faithful of the firm evangelical principle, embodied in the heart of one person, Thérèse, that appeared more visible and more pedagogic or catechetical. By her strong charismatic attraction of extraordinary importance with the witness of her life and with the verve of her language, Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and of the Holy Face offered in the most visual form the evangelical counsel “to beg the owner of the harvest” (Mt 9, 38).

In order to understand the idea that St. Thérèse had of the Missions we have to take into account the theological implications of her environment, the historical context and her country. Let us reproduce an idea of missionary work that could reflect the Teresian mind in the French context of the 19th century: To “save souls is to be missionary, it is go, and live and work among peoples that don't know about the salvation that Jesus Christ merited for them, to guide them to benefit from his redeeming Blood, to teach them the truths of the faith, and to help them to enter in the universal Church. It is also simply to unite themselves by prayer to the multitude of those who do not know Christ and to bring them to Him.”[10]

Vatican II defined the missionary activity in these terms: “The special end of this missionary activity is the evangelization and the implantation of the Church among peoples or groups in which it has not yet taken root.”[11] The practical consequence, in general for all Christians, is found in the approach and question of Paul VI: “It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to prayerfully examine this thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God's mercy, if we preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame- what St. Paul called “being ashamed of the Gospel”(Rm 1, 16) - or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it?”[12]

The same Pope described evangelization in these terms: “to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world - that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life”.[13]

In his missionary encyclical “Redemptoris missio” John Paul II describes missionary service in this way: “The missionary must be a “contemplative in action.” He finds answers to problems in the light of God's word and in personal and community prayer. My contact with representatives of the non-Christian spiritual traditions, particularly those of Asia, has confirmed me in the view that the future of mission depends to a great extent on contemplation. Unless the missionary is a contemplative he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way.”[14]

Moreover John Paul II adds that the steps of evangelization of the Church can be summarized in these points: 1) the simple presence and witness to Christian life; 2) human development; 3) liturgy and prayer; 4) interreligious dialogue; 5) the explicit announcement of the Gospel and of the catechism.[15]

With this awareness Thérèse was missionary by her life. Her being declared a patroness equal to St. Francis Xavier was not just an ecclesiastical coincidence. It is frequent in the history of the Church, in order to better express between two, a voice and an echo, a situation, a reality, a principle. We have the example of St. Peter and of St. Paul; the first one embodies the authority in the Church, while the Apostle of the nations reveals its charismatic dimension. In the case of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the Church, the first one commands respect for his qualities of leadership and organization, winding up as being the legislator of the monks for the Eastern Church, while the second was a contemplative and a poet. We know the case of saints Cyril and Methodius.

For other examples of complementarity we can mention St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, St. Francis and St. Clare, and St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.

From all that has been said, the richness of her charism, and her incarnating the principle of a life of prayer for the workers of the evangelical harvest, St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus merited to become the Patroness of the Missions.


2.   Vocation and charism


In Thérèse’s homeland, France had a flourishing missionary spirit.[16] Starting from 1850 we can see the appearance of an important number of missionary Institutes. In 1890, two out of three missionaries in the world were French. In France, the Papal Missionary Works of the Propagation of the Faith and of the Holy Childhood originated. The area of the Normandy was particularly known for its link with the East.[17] The Carmelite proto–martyr B. Dionysus of the Nativity (1600-1638) was a native of Honfleur.[18] Mons. Lambert de la Motte, co–founder of the Society of the Foreign Missionaries of Paris, was born in Lisieux in 1624. We know the linking of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus to Théophane Vénard, a young Norman who was martyred in Tonkin (+ 1861). In 1861, the Carmel of Lisieux establish its first missionary foundation with the monastery of Saigon at the initiative of Normandy’s Apostolic Vicar.[19] The two spiritual brothers of the Lisieux Carmel, Alphonse Roulland and Maurice Bellière, were also Norman.

The “Annals of the Propagation of the Faith”, with the weekly supplement which reported “on the setbacks and victories of the Catholic” apostolate was diffused throughout the Diocese. We know that the Martin family subscribed to it and that Thérèse herself was inscribed since January 12 1885 in the Work of the Holy Childhood.

The young Martin's missionary awareness was revealed in her Christmas 1886 “conversion”. Describing this grace, she writes: “Like His apostles: 'Master, I have fished all night and caught nothing'… He made of me a fisher of souls. I experienced a great desire to work for the conversion of sinners, a desire I hadn’t experienced so intensely before.”[20] Months later, in July of 1887, she will be confirmed in her vocation. It happened in the Cathedral of Lisieux. “One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls… I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners.”[21]

A concrete case presented itself with the condemnation to death of the homicidal Pranzini, her “first son.”[22] Her comment shows the maturity she acquired with this “unique grace”, because starting from here “my desire to save souls grew day by day.”[23] Pranzini will be her first “son” of the multitude that followed afterwards in the world and in history. With this charged up atmosphere she undertook her trip to Italy. And of that moment her sister Celine recounts the following memory. After having read some pages of the Annals of the Missionary Sisters, Thérèse said: “I don't want to continue reading. I already have such a vehement desire to be a missionary!... I want to be a Carmelite.” Celine still adds the comment that her holy sister aspired to Carmel “to suffer more and for this means to save more souls.”[24]

Once in Carmel, she understood her missionary vocation from a contemplative point of view. “I had declared at the feet of Jesus–Victim, in the examination preceding my Profession, what I had come to Carmel for: I came to save souls and especially to pray for priests. When one wishes to attain a goal, one must use the means; Jesus made me understand that it was through suffering that he wanted to give me souls, and my attraction for suffering grew in proportion to its increase.”[25] In the note she composed for, September 8, 1890, she petitioned Jesus: “That I save many souls . . .”[26] Toward the end of her life (19.03.1897) she will add that she wants to “even save souls after my death.”[27] The principle of her Carmelite life was constant: It is “for prayer and sacrifice that one can help the missionaries.”[28]

The admirable thing in this case is that the missionary attraction doesn't appear in her like a personal preferential disposition, but as the motive of her Carmelite vocation. “I want to be a daughter of the Church.” like our Mother St. Teresa, and pray for the intentions of Holy Father the Pope, knowing that his intentions embrace the universe. This is the general purpose of my life.”[29] This was a clear reference to the ideas of Mother Teresa, manifested with such vehemence in her Writings, as V 32, 6; F 1, 7; C 3, 10. Even unto the preference of being able to save a single soul to remain in the purgatory, she shows herself to be in cordial sympathy with Teresa of Jesus (cf. C 3, 6).[30] Celine will remember in her “Counsels and Memories” that Thérèse wanted to be photographed in June of 1897 with the text of St. Teresa of Jesus in her hands: “To liberate only one [soul] I would gladly die many times over.” (V 32, 6; cfr. also 6M 6, 4).[31]

On behalf of St. Teresa of Avila, on behalf of her best tradition, Teresa of Lisieux feels herself to be a missionary as a Carmelite nun. The expression appears more than once from her pen: “A Carmelite that was not an apostle would move away from the purpose of her vocation and she would cease being a daughter of the Seraphic St. Teresa that wanted to give a thousand lives to save a single soul.”[32] Such a statement is the echo or the resonance of the spirit that the Founder inculcated in Carmel. Thérèse concludes it this way in her thought: “Not being able to be missionary in action, I have wanted to be one by love and the penance, like St. Teresa.”[33] In perfect Teresian harmony, the young Lisieux Carmelite adheres to the priority of contemplative prayer for the Missions: “How great it is the power of prayer! It could be said that she is a queen that has free access before the king in all moments, being able to obtain as much as she requests.”[34]

These presuppositions taken together help us to better understand all her vigorous and fiery missionary statements. In 1895, the Saigon Carmel had founded a monastery at Hanoi. Between this foundation and Lisieux there was a regular correspondence. Mother Marie Gonzaga looked for volunteers in her community. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus offers herself in person: “I have not only accepted the exile amid an unknown town, but rather, what was much more bitter to me - I have accepted the exile for my sisters … My mother: to live in a foreign Carmel it is necessary (you have told me) to have a very special vocation.[35] Many souls feel called but it isn’t so. You have told me that I have this vocation.” In a letter to her spiritual brother Maurice Roulland she writes decidedly: “I say that I would leave willingly for Tonkin, if God deigns to call me.” To avoid any possible misunderstanding, she emphasizes: “No, it is not a dream and I can assure you that if the good Jesus doesn't come soon to look for me for the heavenly Carmel, I will leave for the [Carmel] of Hanoi.”[36] Only the seriousness of her illness cut this project short. After a novena for clarity to the martyr from Indochina, Téophane Vénard, the evidence to give up the project imposed itself.[37]

However, the motive of her missionary vocation and the will of her specific contribution remain. She explains: “Love attracts love.”[38] And being inspired by the Song of Songs, she writes and she comments: “Draw me … What is it to request to be drawn, if it is not to unite in the most intimate way to the object that comes to the heart? … Dear Mother: here is my prayer: I request Jesus to attract me to the flames of his love, to unite me so closely to Him that he lives and acts in me. I feel that the more the fire of love inflames my heart, the more I may say: Draw me, so that the souls that will come closer to me (poor dregs of useless iron if I move away from the divine brazier) they will run quickly after the scent of the Beloved’s perfumes, because a soul inflamed by love cannot remain inactive …”[39]

Hans Urs von Balthasar offers this theological evaluation: “Here Thérèse shows an attitude that you cannot characterize as more of a contemplative or active view. Both views are united in an unique law of love from which as much receptivity as fecundity proceed, as much Mary as Marta. This point which transcends the unity is the supreme discovery that was granted to Thérèse.”[40]

Her relationship with her two spiritual brothers increased her missionary spirit by more personalized motivations. Her dealings with Maurice Bellière in 1895 came to her- again from St. Thérèse's hand- “as flowers are offered for the feast.”[41] In May of the following year it was the turn of Adolphe Roulland, now calmed in her confusion of being able to take charge spiritually of a second priest.[42] The epistolary correspondence with them is an entire literary gender of high content in the missionary theme.[43]

In this way we thus arrive at the center of St. Thérèse original teaching, seeking the most “perfect gifts” (1 Cor 12, 31) with ardor. In this phase of her life, Thérèse enters into a great spiritual anxiety. She wants to be too many things at the same time. Finally, she finds the unifying solution: “In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be the Love. Thus, I shall be everything.”[44]

It is in this climate that we should interpret the daring statements of the “Last Conversations”. With the background of her life she could well affirm in her last illness: “I feel that I am going to enter into rest. But I mainly feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love him … My heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth … I cannot be happy rejoicing, I cannot rest until all souls are saved.”[45]

Thérèse of the Infant Jesus will remain a Missionary until the end of time.


3.   External history. Providential circumstances


Apart from her own merits, in order that St. Thérèse would be proclaimed Patroness of the Missions, some people providentially intervened at an opportune moment. Before the papal decree a local base movement arose in the missionary field. Let us look first at the people.


a)   Missionary OMI, Eskimos and other devotees of Canada


In the lifetime of the founder, St. Eugène of Mazenod, the Oblates of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were asked to lend their evangelizing service to Canada. The first six missionaries arrived in Montreal in December of 1841. In 1845 they entered in the service of Mons. Provencher, the Apostolic Vicar of all Western Canadian. Thus began that epic mission of sending out missionaries in sleds and canoes. It had the air of being like an epic story that was very popular for the time, bordering on being a romantic story. In 1859 they arrived at the Polar Arctic Circle establishing their first contact with the Eskimos. They crossed the territory of Labrador in 1866, and in 1912 they began the Hudson Bay Mission.

In France a young seminarian got excited about evangelizing the Eskimos. He is the Norman, Arsène Turquetil (1876-1955). At 24 years of age in 1900 he goes abroad for the Apostolic Vicariate of Saskatchewan, Canada. He crosses Lake Caribou in a canoe. After a journey of seven days, driven in a sled, he finally contacts the Eskimos to learn their language. It is a difficult evangelization. Pessimism has taken hold among the missionaries. “The Eskimos, the Eskimos! the superior tells him. I have begged God to send them a missionary for more than 30 years.”[46]     

The hour of grace for that town of Hudson Bay had to sound when the Apostolic Vicariate of Keewatin was created. Their prelate, Mons. Ovide Charlebois (1862-1933), entrusted P. Turquetil the task of trying to found a Mission in Chesterfield Inlet, in an area full of the Eskimo “Inuits.” He arrived there with two other partners in August of 1912. They lived a year of complete solitude in that desert of snow and ice, isolated from the rest of the world. They try to learn the language without either a grammar book or dictionary, because he sought to learn it through listening, observation and direct questions to the natives. But there are frequent jeers and sarcasms from the native audience. In November of 1913, all are surprised by the news of the martyrdom of two Oblate Missionaries in the neighboring Vicariate. Mons. Charlebois decides to suppress the Mission that is sterile and without a future.

At that moment the annual mail of Europe arrived from the Norman Diocese of Bayeux basically of Lisieux. The content is a short Life of Sr. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and some little sacks of dust from her casket whose mortal remains had been exhumed.[47] Questions began to arise: A saint from their native Normandy who has promised to help missionaries? Does she keep her promise?” P. Turquetil wanted to try her out. This seems naive, but that is the story! It is the proof that he acted with faith, and the great miracle–worker of those times responded to the hope.

 “Tomorrow morning,” P. Turquetil tells Br. Girard - “we will give it a shot. When the Eskimos are gathered in the room to listen the gramophone, I will them give catechesis on the law. While I speak to them, you will invoke Thérèse; you will open these sacks and discreetly turn their contents upon the heads of my listeners.” The following day, without any delay, the surprise arrives. The witch doctor of Chesterfield, the biggest enemy of the Mission, requests baptism, adding with resolve: I will “come here every day. I will do all that you tell me, because I don't want to go to the hell.”[48]

His conversion brought in many other Eskimos to prepare for baptism. On July 2 1917 he arrives at baptism with twelve Eskimos. The neophytes show a great Eucharistic fervor. Amazed and grateful, the missionaries recognize the miracle that the Norman Thérèse has worked. In his visit to the Mission of Chesterfield during the year 1923, Mons. Ovide Charlebois, who in previous years wanted to suppress the Mission, decided now to create other missionary posts. In Pointe-aux-Esquimaux the first church will be built in honor of the B. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus.

On May 17 1925, P. Arsène Turquetil returns to Canada from his visit in France. Two months later, on July 15, he is named the first Prefect Apostolic Hudson Bay. The new missionary district is consecrated to the heavenly patronage of the new Saint that loved the snow and promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth. Her statue in the chapel is an attraction for the Eskimos. Under the new prelate's drive four new missionary stations open up. Mons. Turquetil inaugurates the hospital of “St. Thérèse “in Chesterfield, the first of the Great North, and installs heating and other comforts of civilization. The evolution of the area surprises the Congregation of Propagation of the Faith and elevates the Mission to the category of Apostolic Vicariate in July of 1931 and on February 23 1932 it conferred episcopal consecration on Mons Turquetil. Their heavenly patroness saved him from dangers of difficult crossings and manifestly helps him in the development of the Mission.[49]

The story seems no less than extraordinarily charismatic. But it is attested to by the facts. As with everything else, what interests us above all is what has actually happened.

A lay Canadian, Mr. Paul Lionel Bernard (1889-1965), was an enthusiastic follower of St. Thérèse from the first time he heard about her.[50] Already in 1910 he established a regular relationship with the Carmel of Lisieux that he kept for life. In 1957 he was placed in charge of the beatification of the parents of St. Thérèse. In 1917, he was made national spokesman and he asked Benedict XV for the prompt beatification of the wonder-working Carmelite. He was able to present 12 volumes of several thousand signatures with this petition for the beatification of Thérèse to the Pope. In 1925 he was the promoter of a report signed by the Canadian bishops on the exceptional “shower of roses” of thanksgiving, cures, answered supplications and heavenly interventions in North America. Pius XI examined the report with delight.

Will St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus, be proclaimed the Patroness of the Missions of Canada? Mons. Charlebois intervenes now with his faith and with his experience of Thérèse evidenced in the case of P. Turquetil. Always with Mr. Paul Lionel Bernard's collaboration, the one called the “polar bishop” in the month of the canonization “of the greatest saint of modern” times, May of 1925, communicates his idea to some apostolic vicars from the Canada, and he obtains twelve affirmative signatures. In March of 1926 they are presented to the Pope. A question arises in the Roman curia. The Cardinal Van Rossum, Prefect of Propaganda, is interrogated if the Canadian supplication only refers to the Missions of that country or the Missions of the whole world. If it is the second option, it would be necessary to consult the world wide missionary episcopate.

Setting himself to this task, Mons. Charlebois had already received 232 affirmative answers by March of 1927. Some letters contained enthusiastic stories because other apostolic vicars in the world had experienced clear signs of Therese’s intercession. The publication of the “Shower of Roses” relates hundreds of them.[51] María of the Redemption, Ursuline of Trois-Rivières and a big friend of M. Agnes of Jesus, joins the list of affirmations. She prepares a careful album which she gives to Pius XI on October 14 1927. The Pope examines it with admiration. But the Congregations of Rites and the Propagation of the Faith is against the possible title of Patroness of the Missions. The Pope insists that he had considered well the matter. The Congregation of Rites bowed to his observation to prepare the decree for December of 1927 for St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus to be proclaimed the universal Patroness of the Missions.

In an admirable synthesis, Mons. Charlebois could write to Carmel of Lisieux: “It is not necessary to attribute to me all the merit. I admit to have suggested the idea and lent my name; for the rest, it is necessary to keep in mind some that have been devoted in an admirable way to this dear cause, and to your prayers. But, mainly, it has been our good Saint that threw her roses of success on all our steps from on high. It was she who wanted at heart to be Patroness of missionaries that she so much loved and for whom she so much suffered.”[52]


      b) Pius XI as the Pope of the Missions


We have alluded to Pope Pius XI’s intervention. The Pope of the Missions assumed the gesture which was innovative and daring in its time of naming St. Thérèse as the Patroness of the Missions and whom he called the “star of his pontificate.”[53] To avoid any misunderstanding that the title was more secondary or modest, he said in his decree that the holy Carmelite of Lisieux is Patroness in “the same way as St. Francis Xavier.”

      The title of Patroness of the Missions was not the fruit of an impulse of personal devotion. Pius XI considered the situation of the Church at that time. In this context, St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus represented or embodied the best projection of the papal teaching. She was at the apex of her “storm of glory”. After the Bible, the “Story of a Soul” was the preferred reading in religious circles. “From Therese’s hand”, it has been written, “the contemplative life received in this way a beautiful confirmation of its apostolic character, and she herself became a reference point for missionaries.”[54]

On February 28 1928 Pius XI signed his missionary encyclical “Rerum Ecclesiae”.[55] Even though the Holy Year was three years passed, the papal document still had its fervor. The encyclical also spoke of the Vatican Missionary Exhibition, the creation of the missionary museum, the canonization of St. Thérèse and of her being named as patroness of the Papal Missionary Work of St. Peter the Apostle. Enlarging on this last memory, it presents St. Thérèse “as the one who, while she lived here below her monastic life, she took under their care and, to say in this way, she adopted one or another missionary to help him, as she made it, with her prayers, with the voluntary or prescribed penances and, mainly, offering the Divine Spouse the vehement spasms of her illness.” AND he adds concluding his conviction: “Under the auspices of the Virgin of Lisieux, we await the most abundant fruits.”

The backdrop of St. Thérèse is at the core of this papal encyclical. In it the Pope ratified the importance of prayer. For that reason he said to missionaries: “The esteem which we have for the contemplative life doesn't need proof …, because people living in solitude will draw upon you and upon your works an inestimable abundance of graces”.[56]

The Pope of the Missions proposed an effort for the missionary impulse, based on prayer and sacrifice. It was the foundation of the missionary expansion which will help improve the spiritual quality of the clergy which will motivate Christians in their general commitment for the success of the missionary work in the world.

In the idea of inculcating the creation of the indigenous clergy, as in Benedict XV's “Maximum illud,” Pius XI added the proposal now of creating religious institutes in missionary territories. Developing this idea, came this proposal: “ With how much esteem we appreciate the contemplative life, the Apostolic Constitution [“Umbratilem”], with which we approve [… the Rule of the Carthusians makes clear. Also we ourselves vividly exhort the major superiors of such contemplative Orders … that, through the foundations of convents, they import and diffuse the austere form of contemplative life.” Leaving aside possible secular prejudices, Pius XI assures: “One must not fear that these monks will not find earthy help in you, while the inhabitants, especially of some regions, although pagan in their majority, have a natural tendency for the solitude, prayer and contemplation.”[57]

It is the novelty of the encyclical. The witness of St. Thérèse formed in her person the Pope's ideal. In this year and in this ecclesiastical-missionary climate of 1926 the proposal is elaborated, initially Canadian, of proposing her as Patroness of the Missions. In December of the following year this desire and ideal was finally formalized with the papal rescript. With renewed and concrete vigor the Pope of the Missions reminded the Church of the priority of prayer in the task of evangelization. St. Thérèse was the incarnated model of such a doctrine.

Along the same lines and with the same objective, Thérèse of the Infant Jesus was named, still under Pius XI, Patroness of the “Russicum” seminary of Rome (1928), Patroness of the Apostolic Delegation of Mexico (1929) in a time of special difficulty, Patroness of the Priestly Union of Lisieux (1929), and Patroness of the Young Christian Works (1932).




As Vatican II remind us: “All the faithful ones, as members of the living Christ, incorporated and likened to Him by Baptism, Confirmation and by the Eucharist, have the duty of cooperating in the expansion and dilation of His Body, to bring it as soon as possible to its fullness (cfr. Eph 4, 13).”[58] This duty concerns us all. The activity (the social and charitable service of the Missions) is easily understood. It is more subtle to inculcate the importance of prayer even though it has a biblical foundation, more effort, more catechesis is required. In the mind of Pius XI St. Thérèse of Lisieux offers the clearest witness and attractive stimulus for this. For that reason he valued Thérèse as an catalytic example.        

The missionary force of St. Thérèse has intense connotations of originality. She was convinced that her commitment to the Missions at such a level was the work of God. “How merciful is the road by which God has always led me. He never makes me want something without it granting it to me.”[59] And in a letter of July 13, 1897 to Maurice Bellière, she underscores her conviction: “He has always made me want what He wants to give me . . .”[60] In this missionary dynamic Thérèse seems inspired and sustained by the principle of St. John of the Cross: “The soul obtains as much as it desires”.[61]

Let us also invoke her understanding for people far from Lord, whether because of ignorance, or whether by rejection. Her great test of faith clarified for her their problem of disbelief”: “Lord, your daughter has understood your divine revelation. I ask you for forgiveness for her brothers. She is resigned to eat, for the time that you decide, the bread of pain, and she doesn't want to get up from this table full of bitterness, where the poor sinners eat, until the day arrives for your signal […] However, may she not be able to also to say on their behalf: 'Do have pity on us, Lord, because we are poor sinners? Or, Lord, send us away justified. May all those that are not illuminated by the torch of the faith, see it, finally, to shine.”[62] A case is known among her own relatives: “I have offered my interior struggles against faith, mainly, for a person, bound to our family that doesn't have faith.”[63] Thérèse is a soul that transcends the cloister and she pleads for unbelievers.

As we recalled, Therese’s great burning desire of leaving if it was possible - to go to the Carmel of Tonkin, helped her to understand that Lisieux could not be closed in on itself without limiting its horizons. It helped her to “grow in her soul”, in order to enlarge the view and the concept of Mission. This concern already appears in her before her entrance into Carmel. It is one of the conclusions from her trip to Italy. In this context she writes down this reflection: “How beautiful is the vocation that has for its purpose to conserve the salt of the earth! This is Carmel's vocation, since the only purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is the one of being the apostles' apostle, praying for them while they evangelize souls with by word and, mainly, by their example.”[64]

Already in Carmel, Thérèse explains the importance of the missions to her sister Celine in letter dated August 15 1892: “I was thinking one day what could be done to save souls; a passage of the Gospel gave me a clear light. On one occasion Jesus said to his disciples, showing them the fields of mature crops: 'You lift up your eyes and see how the fields are quite white, ready as to be harvested” (Jn 4, 35). A little later she adds: “Truly, the harvest is abundant, but the number of workers is reduced; request, then, the owner of the harvest that he send workers'. What mystery! Is not Jesus omnipotent? Did he not make all creatures? Why does Jesus say: 'Do request to the owner that send works'? Why? Ah! It is because Jesus feels for us such an incomprehensible love that he wants us to have part with him in the salvation of the souls, redeemed, like her, at the price of all his blood”.

Thus, she reached the conclusion: “Our vocation is not go to reap in the fields of the mature crops; Jesus doesn't tell us: ‘Lower your eyes, look at the fields and go and reap’. Our mission is more sublime still. Here are Jesus’ words: ‘Lift your eyes and see. See how in heaven there are empty places, he asks you to fill them. You are my praying Moses on the mountain; request workers of me, and I will send them. I only wait for a prayer, a sigh of your heart! The apostolate of prayer, is it not so to say, higher than that of preaching? Our mission, as Carmelite, is one of forming evangelical workers that will save millions of souls whose mothers we will be”.[65]

In conclusion, this is the missionary thought of St. Thérèse: concrete, attractive, evocative: “Millions of souls, of those that we will be mothers.” This is also her posthumous mission as Patroness of the Missions: to diffuse the way to spiritual childhood before God-Father in a self-sufficient world that does without of the Creator. Let us remember her own words: “My way is of total confidence and love.”[66] Another task of hers was that of being the mother of missionaries. The best proof of her maternal mission can be found in the exchange of letters with her two spiritual brothers. In these letters she showed herself to be a great sister, an experienced sister, a teaching sister and an interceding mother.

[1]  AAS  20 (1927) 147-148; AOCD 2 (1927)  200.

[2]  Benedict XV, in his encyclical letter Maximum illud (1919), considers him as “worthy of being compared to the apostles” (n. 7).

[3]  It is interesting to note that St. Thérèse  entrusted herself with great confidence to St. Francis Xavier in the novena called the “novena of the grace”  (March 4-12 1897) to obtain from him the grace to spend my heaven doing good on earth. She requested the same grace from St Joseph during the same period, according to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. cfr. General Correspondence, Volume II, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington D.C. 1988, p. 1074, endnote 11.

[4] Luciniano Luis Luis, “Javier y Teresita: Dos místicos Patronos de las Misiones”, in Monte Carmelo 115 (Burgos 2007), 88.

[5]   LT  220.

[6]  Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, 3rd ed.  Trans. By John Clark. Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C. 1996. p. 254. Henceforth referred to as Story of a Soul.

[7]  20 (1921), p. 1.

[8]  Ibid., p. 27-27.

[9]  AAS  18 72-73.

[10]  Georges Gourée, Femmes au coeur du feu. Edit. La Combe, Paris 1956, p. 20. According to the biblical understanding, the “soul” recapitulates the whole human person, designating by the more spiritual part. Cfr. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 363.

[11]  AG 6.

[12]  EN 80.

[13]  Ibid. ,  26.

[14]  RM 91.

[15]  The text is from the Pontifical Secretariate for non believers. Roma 1984.

[16]  Stéphane-Marie Morgain, Le mouvement missionnaire en Europe dans la seconde moitié du 19è me  siècle: l’exemple de la France, en  «Thérèse de Lisieux et les Missions. Mission et Contemplation». Edit Carmel-Afrique, Kinshasa 1996, pp. 47-61.

[17]  Pierre André Picard, Le climat missionnaire du diocèse de Lisieux à l’époque de Thérèse, en Vie Thérésienne  39 (1999)  7-21.

[18]  Marie-Anne Loriot-Henri Sale, Pierre Berthelot,  en  Thérèse de Lisieux  873 (janvier  2007) 2-5.

[19]  Gérard Moussay, Mgr Lefebvre (1810-1865) et les Carmélites en Cochinchine, en Thérèse de Lisieux 876 (avril 2007) 2-3.

[20]  Story of a Soul, pp. 98–99.

[21]  Ibid., p. 99.

[22]  Ibid., p. 100

[23]  Ibid.

[24]  Consejos y Recuerdos. Burgos 1953, p. 131.

[25]  Story of a Soul, p. 149.

[26]  Or 2.

[27]  LT 221.

[28]  Story of a Soul, p. 251.

[29]  Ibid., p. 253

[30]  LT 221.

[31]  Consejos y Recuerdos…, p. 130.

[32]  LT 198.

[33]  LT 189. In the centennial of the death of B. Elizabeth of the Trinity it would be appropriate to remember that our mystical sister of Dijon had the same missionary thought of or apostolic feeling as that of holy Mother Teresa. “Pray also to our seraphic Mother Saint Teresa, who loved so much that she died of love! Ask her for her passion for God, for souls, for the Carmelite must be apostolic; all her prayers, all her sacrifices tend to this!” (Letter 136). “Our holy Mother Teresa wants her daughters to be wholly apostolic” (Letter 179). “… as a true daughter of Saint Teresa, I desire to be an apostle so I can give every glory to Him whom I love, and like my holy Mother, I think He has left me on earth so I might be zealous for His honor just like a true bride” (Letter 276). “Apostle and Carmelite:  it is one”  (Letter 124). [All taken from: Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity, Vol. II: Letters from Carmel. Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1995]

[34]  Story of a Soul, p. 252 . Cfr. pp. 77–78, and 166–167.

[35]  Ibid., p. 216–218.

[36]  LT 221.

[37]  The Last Conversations (LC), April 27, 1897.

[38]  Story of a Soul, p. 256.

[39]  Ibid., pp. 256–258

[40]  Histoire d’’une Mission. Apostolat des Editions, 1973, p. 277.

[41]  Story of a Soul, pp. 250.

[42]  Ibid., pp. 252–253

[43]  Cfr David Molina, “Teresa de Lisieux a los misioneros”, en  AA.VV., Teresa de Lisieux, Profeta de Dios, Doctora de la Iglesia. Salamanca 1999, pp. 707-729.

[44]  Story of a Soul, pp. 194–195.

[45]  LC, July 7, 1897.  The idea also became expressed in a card to A. Roulland: “I really count on not remaining inactive in heaven. My desire is to work still for the Church and for souls.” (LT 254) . During her final illness she wanted to repeat at times this, her conviction: “God would not have given me the desire of doing  good on earth after my death, if He didn’t will to realize it; He would rather have given me the desire to rest in Him.” (LC July 18, 1897). Several weeks later she expressed herself this way: “As long as you are in irons, you cannot carry out your mission; but later on, after your death, this will be the time for your works and your conquests.” (LC August 10, 1897).

[46]   Fra Henri-Marie, Monseigneur Turquetil et Ste Thérèse au pays esquimau, en Les Annales de Ste Thérèse de Lisieux. 1932, p.  133.

[47]  The first exhumation, in view of the canonical process for her beatification took place on September 6, 1910 and again on August 9–10, 1917.

[48]  Les Annales …,  p. 136.

[49]  Dominique Menvielle, «L’épopée blanche. Un normand contemporain de Thérèse Martin, apôtre des indiens et des esquimaux», en Thérèse de Lisieux,  875 (mars 2007) pp. 2-6.

[50]  Cfr. Les Annales de Ste Thérèse de Lisieux, 1966/2, p. 23 ; Stéphane Piat, «Un chevalier servant de la gloire thérésienne, Paul Lionel Bernard», en Les Annales … 1966/10, pp. 4-6.

[51]  From 1913 to 1925 seven volumes with a total of 3,750 were published.

[52]  Les Annales …, 1928, p. 88

[53]  Carlo Confalonieri, Pio XI visto da vicino, Torino 1957,  p. 310.

[54]  David Molina, ”Teresa de Lisieux a los misioneros”, en AA. VV., Teresa de Lisieux, Profeta de Dios, Doctora de la Iglesia. Salamanca 1999, p. 708.

[55]  AAS  18 (1927) 65-83; AOCD  I (1926) 8-19.

[56]  Encyclical  “Rerum Ecclesiae”, nº  41.

[57]  Nº 106-112.

[58]  AG 36.

[59]  Story of a Soul, pp. 151–152.

[60]  LT 253.

[61]  3S 7, 2.

[62]  Story of a Soul, p. 212.

[63]  LC, September 2,1897. She was referring to René Tostain the husband of  Margarita María Maudelonde, the niece of  Celine Guérin.

[64]  Story of a Soul, pp. 121–122.

[65]  LT 135.

[66]  LT  226.


 English] [ Italiano] [ Español] [ Français ] [ Deutsch]
[ ] [  ]

Updated 13 dic 2007  by OCD General House
Corso d'Italia, 38 - 00198 Roma - Italia
 ++39 (06) 854431  FAX ++39 (06) 85350206