Marie Francoise Martin was born in Alencon, France in 1873. She was the youngest of nine children. Only Marie Francoise and four of her sisters lived past infancy. Her father was a watchmaker. Her mother, who was a lace maker, died of breast cancer when Marie Francoise was five. The family then moved to the town of Lisieux, where she was raised by her elder sisters and an aunt.
Two of her sisters became Carmelite nuns. Marie Francoise wanted to join them but was refused permission to enter the monastery because of her youth. She appealed to Pope Leo XIII at a General Audience in Rome. He blessed the bold girl kneeling at his feet and assured her that if it was God's will, it would happen.
After she returned home, the local bishop finally gave his permission -- Marie Francoise made her vows in 1890 and was given a new name as a sign of her new life: Therese of the Child Jesus.
So, how did it come to be that this young woman who entered cloistered life as a teenager would go on to not only become a saint, but the patron saint of missionaries and all mission work?
Some would say it was her "Little Way."
In writing about her spiritual pathway in her autobiography, "The Story of a Soul," Saint Therese talks about her desire to be a saint but feeling herself unworthy. Comparing saints to a glorious mountaintop cloaked in clouds, she contrasts herself as a "grain of sand, which passersby trample underfoot." Yet, she trusted God to use her littleness to get her to Heaven.
Imagine this young woman now living with older nuns, some, it seems, set in their ways and not very tolerant of anyone new. A few were known to treat Saint Therese coldly. To these women, she poured out extra love; she knew that it was easy to love her own blood sisters, who were also members of the monastery. But to show love and kindness to those who did not return it? Surely this was the way of Jesus, Himself. (Read Luke 6: 27-36 for confirmation!)
Though never able to fulfill her desire to serve in the foreign missions, Saint Therese found a way to be a missionary right where she was -- through prayer.
In prayerfully offering her kindness, charity, and the works of her simple life to God for the good of others, Saint Therese made God known to others. That's the ultimate job of every missionary disciple.
Join us, beginning September 22, for a novena to our patron. Sign up here: https://forthemissions.us/sttherese or watch our social media (@BostonMissions) for daily prayers.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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