Born in 1873 into a deeply religious family (she and four of her sisters became nuns), Theresa was a bright child if one with a tendency to be overly sensitive and scrupulous. But on Christmas Day in 1886 she underwent an instant change. As one of her sisters remarked in amazement, “…her soul could be seen to grow in zeal and charity.” Theresa began to feel her particular vocation to be to serve God and His people and to suffer.
By persistent petitioning (she even broke the protocol of a general papal audience by asking the Pope to intervene!) she received a special dispensation which allowed her to enter a Carmelite convent at age 15. Her delicate health forbade extraordinary sacrifices, and so she devoted herself to doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way and everything for the love of God. She described this “little way” (as she called it) as “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute self-surrender." To the daily round of prayer and work common to all those in religious life (and the burden of an uncommonly difficult superior), she added the struggle against a tendency to obstinacy and moodiness and a discipline of little penances: not brushing off a fly (St. Ignatius of Loyola did the same); not scratching an itch; going without blankets in winter, all designed to atone for sins and to rise to virtue. Made acting mistress of novices in 1883, she began to teach them the “little way.” Her hope to serve as a missionary in Indo-china fell through when she contracted tuberculosis. She died in 1897 at age 24 amidst much suffering, her last words: “My God, I love you!”
Two years before her death she was asked to write a memoir of her childhood years. She did, adding an account of her later life as a means of teaching others her “little way.” One of her sisters heavily edited this text and it was published under the title of The Story of A Soul. Though the late Romantic style of its language is now much out of fashion, it was an instant success at the time. Widely translated, it caused veneration for her to spread rapidly. From far and wide reports poured in of miracles attributed to her intercession. In the face of this “hurricane of glory” as Pope Pius XI called it, Rome waived the normal 50-year waiting period. Beatified in 1923 she was declared a saint in 1925, one of the fastest canonization processes in history! A large basilica was built at Lisieux to accommodate the flood of pilgrims that came to honor her. By the 1920s, Theresa Martin, the “Little Flower,” had become the most popular saint of modern times.
The medallion at the top of her window depicts a bellwether sheep (with its customary bell) which leads the flock, a symbol of Christ as the Lamb of God who leads us. On the right of the window, the Virgin Mary is depicted as Queen of Heaven, wearing a golden crown with stars in her halo. She lovingly holds the child Jesus on her lap, trefoils in His halo, His face so bright that it seems to illuminate the entire composition. Three cherubs (with red and green wings!) surround Mary and Jesus in a cloud of glory. Theresa is shown kneeling in prayer, dressed in the robe of the Carmelite order. Unlike St. Margaret Mary’s experience, this is not an apparition, and so Theresa is not shown looking at the heavenly figures. The Christ Child looks down at Theresa, His right hand raised in blessing, His lap filled with roses which He showers down on her, recalling words she spoke in her last months of life: “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.” She has caught one in her left hand while others fall about her. The motif is continued in the lower medallion with its blossoms colored in symbolic hues of red (suffering), white (purity) and pink (joy). A stylized representation of the basilica at Lisieux appears at the lower right. The sky around the Church is shaded beautifully from light blue to red; rising behind Theresa up to the top of the picture, it changes from violet to dark blue while the saint seems to kneel on one of the clouds that floats across the sky.
Pius XI said that Theresa had fulfilled her vocation and achieved sanctity, “without going beyond the common order of things.” By her life, she showed that sainthood is achievable by anyone, no matter how humble, no matter how ordinary, by simply performing the everyday duties of one’s life out of love for God. She, St. Vincent and St. Margaret Mary are all examples of St. Paul’s statement that “…those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chose—those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything” (I Corinthians: 27-28). These three figures speak to us all as we go about our daily rounds in our offices, in our factories and farms, in our classrooms, in our nurseries, among our tools, our computers, or our pots and pans. In and through these ordinary tasks we can help to build the Kingdom of God by blessing our brothers and sisters, doing all the good we can whenever we can, and by doing so, enter into our inheritance of eternal life.