Sunday, August 29, 2010

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
1891-1942 Nun, Discalced Carmelite, Martyr
Memorial:  August 9

There are many Catholic saints who were converts and many who died in the concentration camps of World War II.  One of the most "famous" is St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Well known? you say.  Never heard of her?  Of course not, because, for some reason in her case, people keep using her non-Christian name--Edith Stein.  Even Catholic publishers keep publishing the "Works of St. Edith Stein" or simply have the by line "Edith Stein."  Out of respect for this wonderful, intelligent saint, why do we not use her Christian name?  It has really been puzzling me for quite some time now.  Let me make this point clear, the lady's name is Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

She was "A brilliant philosopher who stopped believing in God when she was 14, Edith Stein was so captivated by reading the autobiography of Teresa of Avila (October 15) that she began a spiritual journey that led to her Baptism in 1922. Twelve years later she imitated Teresa by becoming a Carmelite, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross."  (You can read the rest here.)  She changed her name out of respect for St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross (of and for whom she wrote "The Science of the Cross", one of her many great works.)  You can read more about her here

I know there was some controversy about her Jewish heritage when the Church contemplated the process for sainthood.  But really, why should her Jewish heritage be a problem any more than say, St. Martin de Porres, or even St. Augustine?  She became a Christian, a discalced carmelite (the order founded by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross), and then a martyr.  Was it her Jewish heritage or her Christianity that made her a target for the Nazis?  The simple answer is both.  The good sisters and brothers of the Church had been hiding Jews in their abbeys and monasterys so, Nazis were targeting Jews while searching abbeys in Northern and Central Europe.  St. Teresa was eventually found and sent ultimately to Auschwitz, where another well-know Catholic saint lost his life--St. Maximilian Kolbe.  He was imprisoned because he was a Catholic priest, not a Jewish convert, and died a very painful, lingering death in someone else's place.

The Vatican web site's biography on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross can be read here.  She was a fascinating woman.  And, though I am not of Jewish heritage, I can identify with her spiritual journey to the Church founded by our Lord, Savior, and Messiah that was so foreign to my upbringing.  The Church was a mystery to me growing up but a wonderful discovery and a blossoming joy to me now.  If a woman so intelligent can find her way to His Church, we all can. 

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross......pray for us.


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