St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
“The Jewish Nun” Feast: August 9 Lifespan: 1891-1942 Patronage: Europe, loss of parents, converted Jews, World Youth Day
RECOLLECTION Edith Stein is a remarkable witness to the pursuit of truth. She was a bright young woman, born to Jewish parents in Breslau, Germany. In her teens, she abandoned the Jewish faith and chose to believe there was no God. After World War I she continued her pursuit of higher education, receiving her doctorate of philosophy at the University of Freiburg. The world was her oyster as she graduated Summa Cum Laude. She believed, “There is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman.”
In her post-graduate readings, Edith came across the autobiography of Teresa of Avila. Considering her background and current stance on God, it was an odd selection for her to read, but a providential one, because it led to her conversion and baptism. In her own words,
“When you seek truth, you seek God whether you know it or not.”
Edith infused her newly found faith into her talents of speaking, teaching and writing at the university level, but soon realized she was being drawn to the religious life. It was then she followed in the footsteps of St. Teresa of Avila, and joined the Discalced Carmelite cloistered community. She took her religious name in honor of St. Teresa: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. On Easter of 1935 she professed her vows.
By this time, the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people was reaching a fever-pitch and Teresa Benedicta realized her presence jeopardized the safety of her fellow sisters in the convent. She sought permission for transfer to Holland, where she was welcomed by the Carmelite sisters in Echt.
Not long after Teresa Benedicta arrived, the Nazis invaded Holland. Upon the invasion, the Bishops of Holland took a courageous stance and published a denouncement of the Nazi treatment of the Jews. The Nazis retaliated by deporting all Catholics with Jewish heritage from Holland, in addition to other Jewish people. This included Teresa Benedicta, who was forcibly removed from the carmel and sent via cattle car to the now infamous Auschwitz. There, she was joined by her sister, Rosa, who had also be- come Catholic.
On August 9, 1942, the sisters died together in the gas chambers.
Teresa Benedicta was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1999.