Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway

December 2011: the 125th anniversary of Thérèse's
"complete conversion" at Christmas 1886 

Three Christmases with Thérèse: 1886 ("my complete conversion");
1887 (abandonment); 1888 (joy) 

In This Issue
The night of Christmas 1886: Thérèse's "complete conversion"
Christmas 1887: Abandonment
Christmas 1888: Thérèse, Carmelite postulant
Photos, medals, and medallions of Louis and Zélie Martin imported from Lisieux

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A blessed rest-of-Advent, and a joyful Christmas season.  An emergency delayed my December newsletter; I apologize, but I still have time to wish you a blessed Christmas.

This month we celebrate the 125th anniversary of Thérèse's "complete conversion" at Christmas 1886, so, as a Christmas gift to my readers, I present short articles with photos about that famous event (with a previously unpublished photo of Thérèse's handwritten letter about that grace, for which I thank the Carmel of Lisieux) as well as about Christmas 1887, which Thérèse had so hoped to spend in Carmel, and about Christmas 1888, her first Christmas as a Carmelite. The text about Christmas 1888 is excerpted from Guy Gaucher's definitive biography Thérèse de Lisieux, published by Editions du Cerf in 2010.  

I am delighted to offer a new collection of medals and photos of Thérèse's parents, Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, imported from Lisieux.  And, if you have not yet treated yourself or your friends to A Call to a Deeper Love, an English translation of the letters of Louis and Zélie Martin, please do.

With wishes for a blessed Christmas season and a year of grace,         

Maureen O'Riordan

The night of Christmas 1886:  Thérèse's "complete conversion"

Therese at age thirteen, February 1886
Thérèse at 13, February 1886

This month  is the 125th anniversary of the "grace of Christmas 1886," which was decisive for Thérèse.  In Chapter V of Story of a Soul, Thérèse recounts how, on the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, she "received the grace of leaving my childhood."  With her father, Céline, and Léonie, she had assisted at midnight Mass at St. Pierre's Cathedral. 
The high altar, donated by Louis Martin, of the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Lisieux

The main altar of St. Pierre's Cathedral in Lisieux.
Louis Martin donated it at a cost of 10,000 francs.

They walked back to Les Buissonnets,. which was approached by a road so narrow the local people called it "the road to Paradise." 

road to Les Buissonnets

The road to Les Buissonnets, painted by a neighbor on May 8, 1884,
a few days before Thérèse's First Communion

When they entered the kitchen, Louis saw Thérèse's slippers, which she had placed before the hearth to be filled with toys and sweets, as was the custom for French children on Christmas Eve.  A little fatigued, and thinking that Thérèse was too old for this childishness, he murmured "Fortunately, this will be the last year!"  Climbing the stairs to her room to take off her hat, Thérèse overheard. 
The kitchen at Les Buissonnets where Therese's shoes awaited her Christmas surprises

Knowing that this was enough to make Thérèse cry, Céline urged her not to go downstairs yet.  "But Thérèse was no longer the same.  Jesus had changed her heart."  Suddenly Thérèse was able to go downstairs and exclaim over the treasures, while her father, his irritation vanished, watched her happily.  "Thérèse had regained the strength of soul she had lost at age four and a half, and she was to preserve it forever."

This episode is very well known, and Thérèse remembered its importance all her life.  Ten years later, on November 1, 1896, she wrote to her spiritual brother, Adolphe Roulland, about this event.  In honor of the 125th annniversary of this grace, the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux has permitted me to display a photograph of this autograph letter:

Handwritten text of Thérèse's November 1, 1896 letter to Father Roulland
Thérèse's November 1, 1896 letter to Adolphe Roulland
recounting the grace of December 25, 1886

"The night of Christmas 1886 was, it is true, decisive for my vocation, but to name it more clearly I must call it: the night of my conversion.  On that blessed night, about which it is written that it sheds light even on the delights of God Himself, Jesus, who saw fit to make Himself a child out of love for me, saw fit to have me come forth from the swaddling clothes and imperfections of childhood.  He transformed me in such a way that I no longer recognized myself.  Without this change I would have had to remain for years in the world.  Saint Teresa, who said to her daughters:  "I want you to be women in nothing, but that in everything you may equal strong men," would not have wanted to acknowledge me as her child if the Lord had not clothed me in His divine strength, if He had not Himself armed me for war."  Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988.  LT 201, pp. 1016-1017.

In her article "Conversion as Self-Transcendence Exemplified in the Life of St. Therese of Lisieux," Joann Wolski Conn finds that this experience of Christmas 1886 was a moral conversion for Thérèse, and her June 1895 offering of herself to Merciful Love was a religious conversion.
Christmas 1887:  Abandonment
Thérèse had longed to enter Carmel at Christmas 1887 to celebrate the first anniversary of "her conversion" in Carmel. On December 2, 1887 she returned from the pilgrimage to Rome without having received permission to enter.  Ten days before Christmas she wrote to Bishop Hugonin, renewing her request ("Little Jesus had made me know so well that He wanted me for Christmas that I cannot resist the impulse of His gentle violence" and to the vicar-general, M. Révérony. Every morning after Mass, at which she prayed ardently, Thérèse went to the Post Office seeking a response.

The post office at Lisieux
The post office at Lisieux
At Christmas no answer had come; Thérèse tells us "I spent the afternoon of the radiant feast in tears, and I went to see the Carmelites.  My surprise was indeed great when they opened the grille, and there I saw a radiant little Jesus holding a ball in His hand and on it was written my name.  The Carmelites, taking the place of Jesus who was too little to speak, sang a hymn to me which was composed by my dear Mother; each word poured consolation into my soul.  . . . I told them about the surprise Céline gave me when I returned from Midnight Mass. 
The toy boat with
I found in my room, in the center of a charming basin, a little boat carrying the Little Jesus asleep with a little ball at His side, and Céline had written these words on the white sail:  'I sleep, but my heart watches.'  and on the boat itself this one word: 'Abandonment!'  Ah! though Jesus was not yet speaking to His little fiancée, and though His divine eyes remained closed, He at least revealed Himself to her through souls who understood all the delicacies and the love of His Heart. (Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1976, pp. 142-143).
Christmas 1888:  Thérèse, Carmelite postulant
excerpted from "Thérèse de Lisieux: 1873-1897," by Guy Gaucher, O.C.D. 
translation copyright 2011 by Maureen O'Riordan.  All rights reserved. 

The first Christmas at Carmel of the postulant Thérèse of the Child Jesus passed with a serenity that evoked the second anniversary of her "conversion."  For the night office, she dressed in advance in the Carmelite habit. 
Therese as a novice, January 1889

 Thérèse as a novice, January 1889  



From the heavy breviary of Mother Genevieve prepared for this occasion, she, alone in the center of the choir, had to "chant" in Latin (in fact recto tono, sung on a single note) the first lesson of Matins, drawn from Isaiah chapter 9 


The choir of the Carmel of Lisieux, where the nuns chanted the Divine Office
The choir of Lisieux Carmel

There is no gloom where there had been distress. 
Where once he degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

now he has glorified the way of the Sea,

the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the Nations.*

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

Upon those who lived in a land of gloom

a light has shone.a 

2You have brought them abundant joy

and great rejoicing;

They rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest,

as they exult when dividing the spoils.

3For the yoke that burdened them,

the pole on their shoulder,

The rod of their taskmaster,

you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.*b 

4For every boot that tramped in battle,

every cloak rolled in blood,

will be burned as fuel for fire.c 

5For a child* is born to us, a son is given to us;

upon his shoulder dominion rests.

They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,d

Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 8:23 - 9:5L


Sister Agnes of Jesus coached her and emphasized the pauses and the breathing. Thérèse alternated the responses with the community. For her, it is a premiere; she is moved. The sisters listened to this young voice, a little drawling, with an accent of the province of Orne which rolled the "r."

Therese's cell

After Midnight Mass, on returning to her cell, she found a message from "Little Jesus" written by her sister Agnes of Jesus. A few days later, she turned sixteen, and, the following week, she was to receive forever the habit of Carmel.(from Sainte Therese de Lisieux: 1873-1897, by Guy Gaucher. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2010, pp. 299-300).  


Commemorative medallions, photos and medals of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin imported from Lisieux

Commemorative medallion of Louis and Zelie Martin
In honor of the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin, a commemorative medallion was issued, similar to the "marriage medallion" Louis gave Zélie, who held it in her hand at the moment of their wedding vows.  Many of my readers went to a lot of trouble to order these medallions from Europe.  I am happy to report that the medallion, along with a small but distinguished collection of medals and photographs of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, is now available online (click here) from the United States.  Few medals of holy couples exist, and medals of the Martin spouses are in demand as gifts for engagements, weddings, annniversaries, and other occasions.   Cecilia Prizer, a fervent apostle of Thérèse who operates Angels of Our Lady, a Catholic goods store in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, has imported these items from Lisieux.  She also distributes A Call to a Deeper Love, the letters of Louis and Zélie (see below).

A Call to a Deeper Love

image of the book's cover with photos of Therese, Louis, and Zelie

Treat yourself to the letters of Blessed Zélie and Louis Martin.  Readers write enthusiastically about this gold mine of day-to-day information about the Martin family.  
A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of The Parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, 1863-1885, edited by Dr. Frances Renda and translated by Ann Connors Hess, is available in paperback; 464 pages, with 32 pages of photos. $29.95.  Learn more . . .   


Buy Now  

The books are shipped by Angels of Our Lady Bookstore, 592 Schuylkill Road, Phoenixville, PA  19460.  If you have questions about your order, please e-mail or call them at (610) 917-9470.