To approach the person of Edith Stein presupposes that we are meeting with a passionate searcher for the Truth, a trait which defined the whole of her life. She was born in Breslau (now Poland) into a Jewish family on 12th October 1891. Her mother, a strong woman of deep faith, educated her children in an atmosphere of respect and responsible liberty. Edith’s faith was to weaken as she attempted to make her own the beliefs handed on to her; not finding replies to her questions, she abandoned her faith in her adolescence.
She possessed an extraordinary intelligence and intuition, which made her a brilliant pupil in all her studies. Moved by an interior urge to seek the meaning of life, she studied psychology, a subject which disappointed her. She felt attracted to history, philosophy and German studies, which she undertook during the years she attended the university in the city where she was born.
In her process of search she came upon the work, Logical Investigations. Her teacher in this subject was to be her admired philosopher, Edmund Hesserl, the founder of phenomenology, a science which opened new perspectives on the knowledge of the essence of things. In the Gotinga University she devoted herself to deepening her knowledge of this science together with the study of other philosophers such as Scheler, Reinach, the married couple Conrad-Martius who were to become her great friends.
When the First World War broke out, she enlisted as a nurse in the Red Cross, since she became convinced that her life no longer belonged to her and she had to be committed to the “great happening”. She came in contact with the mystery of pain and death in a manner of the highest reality, which led her to accept as her own the sufferings of mankind.
She continued studying and preparing her doctoral thesis, for which she received the highest distinction, “summa cum laude”, on the subject Concerning empathy. She had the intention of receiving a university chair, but it was denied her because she was a woman.
Two happenings moved her deeply and would play a part in her change of faith to Christ: the attitude of serenity which she noted in Reinach’s wife when he died in combat; and her own reading of the Life of Saint Teresa of Jesus in the house of her friend Mrs Conrad-Martius.
From then on she continued her own itinerary of deepening her faith, which was to become a journey of progressive trustful abandonment into the hands of the One who revealed himself to her as the Truth and the source of all wisdom. Her desire for total commitment to the Lord in Carmel was preceded by some intensely busy years in which she continued teaching German in the Dominican sisters in Espira, giving conferences in pedagogical and philosophical institutions, studying and translating authors such as St Thomas Aquinas or Bl. Cardinal Newman, Professor in the Institute of Scientific Pedagogy in Munster . . . The strongly anti-Semitic atmosphere of the time (1933) finally forced her to abandon teaching.
It seemed to her that the time had arrived to begin her life in Carmel and after a painful meeting with her mother, who had never accepted Edith’s conversion, she entered the Cologne Carmel on 14th October 1933, where she was to remain until 31st December 1938, the date when she transferred to the Echt Carmel in Holland, to escape the suffocating persecution against the Jews and Catholics in Germany. She willingly took upon herself the “science of the Cross” to its ultimate consequences. She entered eternal “Life” on 9th August 1942 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
She was beatified in1987, canonized in 1998, named co-Patron of Europe in 1999, the one who knew how to combine in herself, the search for truth together with confident abandonment into God’s hands.