St. Therese of Lisieux
St. Therese of Lisieux, was born in Alencon, France in 1873. She was the youngest child of Louis and Zelie Martin, who were themselves declared "Venerable" by Pope John Paul II in 1994. All five of the Martin children who reached adulthood became nuns, four of them became Carmelites.
Therese was drawn to God from a very young age. At the age of 15, she received special permission to enter the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux. There, Therese lived a life of humility, simplicity, and childlike trust in God. By word and example she shared this "little way of spiritual childhood" with the novices in her community.
On the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday in 1896, Therese coughed up blood. Over the next 18 months, her condition steadily deteriorated. Her one dream was the work she would do after her death, helping those on earth. "I will return," she said. "My heaven will be spent on earth." Offering her sufferings for the salvation of souls, Therese died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24.
Upon her death, the nuns received permission to distribute Therese's journal. Published on the first anniversary of her death as "The Story of a Soul," the initial printing of 2,000 copies quickly sold out. In the following years, hundreds of thousands of copies of her journal were printed, and it was translated into many languages.
As people read about this unknown nun and sought her intercession, letters started pouring into the Carmelite Convent reporting favors received through her prayers. By the time she was beatified on April 29, 1923, the convent was receiving 800 to 1,000 letters each day.
Pope Pius XI solemnly canonized St. Therese on May 17, 1925. On December 14, 1927, Pope Pius XI proclaimed St. Therese Principal Patroness, equal to St. Francis Xavier, of all missionaries, men and women, and of the missions in the whole world. On May 3, 1944, Pope Pius XII named St. Therese Secondary Patroness of France, equal to St. Joan of Arc.
Most recently, Pope John Paul II named St. Therese a Doctor of the Church on October 19, 1997, World Mission Sunday. "Doctor of the Church" is a title given to a select few saints "on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from their doctrine." She became only the third woman in the Church to be so honored, joining St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Jesus, foundress of the Carmelites.
She never founded a religious order, never performed great works and never went on missions, but she understood that what matters in the Christian life is not great deeds, but great love, and that anyone can achieve the heights of holiness by doing even the smallest things well for love of God. "All is well," she wrote, "when one seeks only the will of Jesus." St. Therese is a reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing, that it is the little things that keep God's kingdom growing.