St. Therese, Little Flower of Jesus

About STEFTI’s Patron Saint

St. Thérèse de Lisieux, The Little Flower of Jesus

Excerpts from My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J., as featured in America Magazine

Photograph taken by Mme Besnier, a photographer from Lisieux. Thérèse holds a jump rope in her hands. It was customary at the time to pose children with their toys. Year: 1881

On January 2, 1873, Marie Francoise Thérèse Martin is born in Alençon, France, to Louis and Zélie Martin, two devout Catholic parents. Louis, a watchmaker, had earlier in his life presented himself to a monastery but was refused permission, because of his lack of knowledge of Latin. Zélie was similarly rejected by a local order of nuns called the Sisters of the Hôtel Dieu; she becomes, instead, a lacemaker. But the couple’s intense love for Catholicism and for religious life will be passed on to their children.

When Thérèse is four her mother dies. Shortly afterwards, the family moves from Alençon to Lisieux. As a young girl Thérèse leads a cosseted existence, living under the loving care of her devoted father and being treated with great tenderness by her four older sisters. By most accounts Thérèse is her father’s favorite daughter. (Indeed, in some biographies the young Thérèse is portrayed as a spoiled little girl.)

Perhaps because of this supportive environment Thérèse is a sunny child and a naturally religious one as well. “I loved God very much,” she would later write about this period, “and offered my heart to him very often.” She is attracted to almost any expression of religiosity: the First Communion of her sister Céline she describes as “one of the most beautiful days in my life.”

Photograph taken by Mme Besnier, a photographer from Lisieux. Year: 1888

As early as the age of two, Thérèse discovers within herself the desire to be a nun. Her two sisters’ entrance to the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux only intensifies her desire to enter a religious order. Faced with the sad prospect of having to wait until the age of 16 to enter the monastery, an adolescent Thérèse travels to Rome with her father to petition the pope for a special dispensation to enter earlier. Her request is granted a few months later by the local bishop, and Thérèse enters the “Carmel” on April 9, 1888, at age 15.

Her life within the monastery walls is short and uneventful: “lacking in outward drama,” as Robert Ellsberg says in his book All Saints. Within a year of entrance she receives her habit. The next year she officially enters the novitiate and is assigned to care for the refectory and sweep the corridors. In 1890 she makes her profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 1891 she is named aid to the sacristan. In 1893 she paints a fresco in the oratory, and is named “second portress,” that is, assistant doorkeeper.

In 1894, on the morning of Good Friday, Thérèse awakes to find her mouth full of blood. Though she had been praying ardently that she might be accepted for missionary service in far-off Vietnam, Thérèse rejoices that she will soon be in heaven.

Yet the onset of tuberculosis will prove not a quick and painless journey to heaven, but rather three years of intense suffering.  During this same year, her father will die, and she will also be asked by her superior to write what would become her spiritual testimony. She titles it Springtime Story of a Little White Flower Written by Herself and Dedicated to Mother Mary Agnes of Jesus.

It is this book that will ultimately draw millions of believers to Jesus, through Thérèse. The life lacking in outward drama is revealed to be full of inward drama. Surprisingly, she describes a powerful call to the priesthood: “I would like to perform the most heroic deeds. I feel I have the courage of a Crusader. I should like to die on the battlefield in defense of the church. If only I were a priest!” Thérèse devotes herself to prayer (especially for priests) and to the service of God in the monastery. She suffers small indignities at the hands of her sisters, striving to be as generous as possible even during her illness, always offering all of her “little” efforts to the God with whom she fell in love as a girl. Her book reveals both the pain and joy that accompany a life of faith.

As Thérèse continues writing, her physical condition deteriorates. The last few chapters are written during a period of extreme suffering. On September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, she dies. Her last words are “Oh, I love Him…My God…I love you.”

But even at her death, the ever-dedicated disciple considers her work unfinished. There is so much more to do, by way of intercession for those she leaves behind: “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven in doing good on earth.”

Two years after her death, her spiritual autobiography is published as Story of a Soul in a sanitized version by her sisters. The work is first passed privately among Carmelite convents but it eventually reaches the outside world, where its success surprises almost everyone. As a result of her “Springtime Story,” Thérèse will become one of the most popular saints in the church—her story captivating, her example inspiring, and her “Little Way” accessible to millions of believers.

In 1925, only twenty-eight years after her death, she is declared a saint. And in 1997 Pope John Paul II declares her to be a “Doctor of the Church,” that is, an eminent teacher of the faith. She is one of only three women to have been so named (along with Saints Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Ávila).

It is, most likely, her deep humility that has rendered her so potent and accessible a model for Christians worldwide.  After all, who hasn’t found oneself humbled by life’s burdens? Who hasn’t experienced one’s own limitations? Who hasn’t suffered? Thérèse is a saint that one feels would naturally understand one’s own problems. Thérèse is someone that one can speak with. People feel comfortable with the “Little Flower.”

Last photograph, taken by her sister Céline. The sanctuary is found at Thérèse’s feet. Year: 1897

“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven in doing good on earth.”

That term, by the way, gleaned from the original title of her autobiography, would eventually become a sort of saintly nickname. In the garden of God, Thérèse of Lisieux protested that she was only a “little flower,” a small daisy compared to the more magnificent roses that she saw around her. (She called herself la petite Thérèse, in order to distinguish herself from her great Carmelite predecessor, Teresa of Avila.) Her famous “little way” is a spirituality that consists of doing small things with love for God, and a way of discipleship that stresses a cheerful humility before the Creator.

But to think of Thérèse of Lisieux as simply a delicate little hothouse flower is to forget the considerable resolve that lay beneath the fragile petals. This was, after all, a person who at age 15 refused to let something as minor as church law stand in the way of her entrance into the monastery: she simply took her case to the pope. And in the face of a terminal illness, when her sense of spiritual equilibrium deserts her and she is faced with inner darkness and desolation, she continues to believe and to pray. (Thérèse would pray for missionary priests in particular: as a result, this cloistered nun is one of the two patron saints of missionaries, along with the peripathetic Saint Francis Xavier). In her Christian resolve, in her calm confidence, she resembles no one so much as her great hero and countrywoman Joan of Arc, whom during her novitiate she portrays in a pageant, dressing up as the Maid of Orléans in makeshift paper armor. One of her Carmelite sisters photographed her in costume—this Joan, however, leans on crutches.

The spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux is usually illustrated by her self-denial and her willingness to accept the reproaches of her sisters in the convent. But this is still too narrow a view of Thérèse, who was able to embrace life fully because she fully understood its sufferings. “Neither do I desire any longer suffering or death, and still I love them both; it is love that attracts me,” she writes in TheStory of a Soul.  Taking her inspiration from St. Paul, who compared the Christian community to a body with many parts, Thérèse boldly declared that she would be the heart.

During her bout with tuberculosis, Thérèse struggles greatly and even flirts with suicide—pointedly telling her Carmelite sisters that medicines should not be kept near the bed of sick persons. Yet, though she struggled, wept and raged, as almost any of us would, she continued to believe—drawing from a deep well of trust filled by the springs of a lifelong love affair with God. As the church historian Janice Farnham, a sister of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, has written, “The way of Thérèse is a way that pierces the darkness, not a ray of light.”

Her famous “little way” is a spirituality that consists of doing small things with love for God, and a way of discipleship that stresses a cheerful humility before the Creator.

Photograph taken by Fr. Gombault, bursar of the minor seminary. Year: 1889

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, or to use the name chosen on the occasion of her profession of religious vows, Thérèse de l’Enfant Jesus et de la Sainte Face, is now found on small holy cards that portray her staring out frankly at the viewer, clad in a brown-and-white Carmelite robe, typically holding a bouquet of multicolored roses and a crucifix. She can be found in churches large and small around the world, standing silently in the identical pose as a polychromed plaster statue, a figure in brilliant stained glass or a portrait in a faded fresco. She can be found in the millions of copies of her autobiography, in countless languages and editions, scattered in homes, apartments, rectories and religious communities. And she can be found in the hearts of those who feel that she, above almost all the saints, understands what it means to be a human being who suffers and rejoices in everyday life.

Her life—simple and complex, clear and opaque, childlike and mature, humble and bold, joyful and sorrowful—speaks to millions of people. And it speaks to me.
Some days when I pray to Thérèse of Lisieux, I think of people who critique her spirituality harshly: too naïve, too childlike, too simplistic, too pious, too kitschy. But Thérèse had heard similarly harsh comments in the monastery, from sisters jealous of her youth, confused by her sanctity, and baffled by her charity.  Such misunderstanding was part of her life.

And I imagine Thérèse in heaven, smiling a little at this misunderstanding. Smiling at those who still see her as too naïve, too humble or too pious. Smiling at those who underestimate the power of humility. Smiling at all of these people.  Smiling, and praying for them.


Frequently Asked Questions About St. Therese

Photograph taken by her sister Céline in the sacristy court yard. Year: 1896
When is her Feast Day?

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Therese, the Little Flower, on October 1st each year. This date was chosen because Therese died on September 30th. Following the ancient custom of celebrating their entrance into heaven the next day, October 1st was chosen as the day to celebrate Therese’s life and eternity. Some people may remember that her feast day was previously October 3rd. That date was established for several reasons, including a packed liturgical calendar. In the liturgical renewal of the 1970’s, when the calendar of saints was updated and refined, St. Therese’s feast was properly moved to the more appropriate October 1st date. It is interesting to note that St. Therese’s home Church in France celebrates her feast day on the last Saturday of September, no matter what the date.

How did St. Therese become known as the “Little Flower”?

St. Therese loved nature, and often used the imagery of nature to explain how the Divine Presence is everywhere, and how everything is connected in God’s loving care and arms. Therese saw herself as “the Little Flower of Jesus” because she was just like the simple wild flowers in forests and fields, unnoticed by the greater population, yet growing and giving glory to God. Therese did not see herself as a brilliant rose or an elegant lily, by simply as a small wildflower. This is how she understood herself before the Lord – simple and hidden, but blooming where God had planted her.

Therese believed passionately that Jesus was delighted in his “Little Flower,” and just as a child can be fascinated by the grandeur of a simple flower, she believed that Jesus was fascinated by her as his “Little Flower.” Therese understood that she was just like the tiny flower in the forest, surviving and flourishing through all the seasons of the year. Because of God’s grace, she knew that she was stronger than she looked. Following the Carmelite tradition, Therese saw the world as God’s garden, and each person being a different kind of flower, enhancing the variety and beauty which Jesus delighted in. When various people tried to explain her powerful inspiration and her place within the Church, it always seemed to come back to one title “the Little Flower.”

In her autobiography, she beautifully explains this spirituality:
Jesus set before me the book of nature. I understand how all the flowers God has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume o

f the violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understand that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. So it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He has created smaller ones and those must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.


What is meant by her “little way”?
Photograph taken by her sister Céline in the sacristy court yard. Thérèse was still dressed as Joan of Arc, taking on the attributes of the character she played in her own play, Joan of Arc accomplishing her mission. Year: 1895

Therese saw herself as a child of God. She liked to keep things simple and focused as a child does. Trust, especially trust in God, is a childlike virtue. Some spiritualities have stressed complicated practices and extraordinary journeys of the soul as it responds to God’s grace and love. Therese’s spirituality is simple and she calls it her “little way.” She believed and taught us that life presents enough challenges and opportunities for grace. She teaches us that God is everywhere – in every situation and person – and in the ordinary, simple details of life.

“Everything is grace” is probably the theme song of her spirituality. Her “little way” teaches us to do the ordinary things of life with extraordinary love. A smile, a note of encouragement, a phone call, suffering in silence, always having a positive word, a simple unnoticed task to brighten the life of another, and so many other simple deeds, done with love – these are the examples of her spirituality. The smallest action, done with love, is more important than great deeds done for personal glory, gratification or simply out of obedience. Therese teaches us that Jesus is everywhere and is the power for love and goodness operating within us. Such is the power and presence of grace. Therese’s life was hidden. To many even in the convent, she seemed like such an average, ordinary person. Her greatness showed in the constancy of her love for others in the most simple ways.

Even in prayer, Therese teaches simplicity – talking to God and Jesus in direct, personal and heartfelt ways. She did not like long prayers. She fell asleep during community prayer. She disliked the rosary. She prayed from her heart as a child speaks honestly and trustingly to a parent they love. God calls us to respond to Divine Love in a childlike relationship of love, trust and bold confidence to “Abba” (which literally means ‘Dad’), and by doing the simple things for others, well and with love.

Therese was faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and the core of his message. She invites us to join in her “spiritual childhood” or “little way.” The power, appeal and simplicity of her message is why our Church declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1997.


What did she mean by her “shower of roses”?
Photograph taken by her sister Céline in the inner court yard, Thérèse holds in her left hand a parchment on which she has written these words of Teresa of Avila: I would give a thousand lives to save a soul. Year: 1896

Experience has shown that St. Therese’s “shower of roses” is both figurative and actual. As she was dying in the convent infirmary, Therese could look out and see the rose bushes blossoming. She loved roses. She had thrown rose petals as a Child before the Blessed Sacrament. As she reflected on her quiet, hidden, and gentle life ending, she believed in faith that God had great things in store for her. She believed that her mission was only beginning as she entered the fullness of life with God. She explained: “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will raise up a mighty host of little saints. My mission is to make God loved…”

Shortly after her death, the rain of roses began. Sometimes roses literally appeared, and sometimes just the fragrance of them. Cures of painful and fatal diseases and many other miraculous experiences were attributed to her intercession. Sometimes people found inner peace and regained an inner warmth of spirit and confidence, by appealing to St. Therese. Many miracles and actions of St. Therese do not involve roses. More often than not, marvelous things happen in people’s lives as they ask for her heavenly intercession. The miracles, healings and inner peace come from the trust one places in God, not from any manifestation of roses. St. Therese lived in the dark night of the senses and spirit, with little consolation. Thus, the friends and followers of St. Therese expect no consolation of sighted roses that their prayers are being answered. Her “little way” is about child-like trust and gentle love. She is the great apostle of faith in God’s love, not simple reliance on physical signs. Jesus warned us, and Therese experienced that the desire for signs is a sign of weak faith. It is always important to remember that St. Therese did not experience extraordinary phenomena in her life. Her faith was refined and strengthened by God.

Roses are Therese’s signature. It is her way of whispering to those who need a sign that she has heard, and God is responding. Thousands of people have given witness to the way Therese responds to their petitions and prayers with grace and roses. The grace is more important than the roses. So many miracles have happened through the intercession of St. Therese without any roses appearing – usually the deep inner peace of accepting God’s will and seeing His loving plan and presence is the “rose” experienced. Sometimes the lack of a physical “rose signature” is an affirmation of a strong faith.

One does not pray for roses. Therese’s message is about simplicity and love in the ordinary events of life. Trust in Therese is important, and when she wills, roses or their fragrance may appear. The stories are remarkable how roses have shown up in the lives and experiences of people, especially in the darkest times. The ordinary and constant way these roses and graces have shown up in people’s experience is extraordinary. It is important to always maintain the rose of confidence that our All-Loving God hears and responds to our needs, according to the mysterious ways of His Love.


Why is her name sometimes spelled “Thérèse,” “Theresa,” and “Therese”?

All three are appropriate, but if one is to remain faithful to her actual French name, it is “Thérèse.” In English, we don’t have the vowel marks which the French have, so she is simply “Therese.”

It was once popular to use the more Anglicized version “Theresa,” but it has caused confusion between her and Teresa of Avila. In order to avoid confusion between the two Carmelites, many choose to use the spelling more reflective of her French name, “Therese.” We believe she answers to all of them.


Prayers to St. Therese

My Novena Rose Prayer

O Little Therese of the Child Jesus, please pick for me a rose
from the heavenly gardens and send it to me as a message of love.

O Little Flower of Jesus, ask God to grant the favors
I now place with confidence in your hands . .

(mention in silence here)

St. Therese, help me to always believe as you did in

God’s great love for me, so that I might imitate your “Little Way” each day.


Miraculous Invocation to St. Therese

O Glorious St. Therese,whom Almighty God has raised up to aidand inspire the human family,
I implore your Miraculous Intercession.

You are so powerful in obtaining every need
of body and spirit from the Heart of God.
Holy Mother Church proclaims you “a Prodigy of Miracles…
the greatest saint of Modern Times.”

Now I fervently beseech you to answer my petition
(mention in silence here)
and to carry out your promises of
spending heaven doing good on earth…
of letting fall from Heaven a Shower of Roses.

Little Flower, give me your childlike faith,
to see the Face of God
in the people and experiences of my life,
and to love God with full confidence.

St. Therese,
I will fulfill your plea “to be made known everywhere”
and I will continue to lead others to Jesus through you.