Marie Frances Therese Martin Guérin was born in Alençon (France) on 2nd January 1873. Her parents were the now Saints Luis Martin and Celia Guerin. She was the last of the nine offspring from this holy marriage from which only five daughters survived: Marie, Pauline, Leonie, Celine and Therese. The first year of her life, she had to be raised in the country by a wet nurse because her mother could not feed her. Initially her life was very happy, but when she was only four years old her mother died of cancer. This affected little Therese very much, who changed from being a vivacious effusive child to being timid, quiet and hyper-sensitive, despite the fact that her father and sisters increased their tenderness towards her.
The family moved to Lisieux, near to her uncle and aunt, the Guérin family. When her sister Pauline entered Carmel in 1882, it was for Therese like losing her mother again. The following year she suffered from a “strange sickness”, with hallucinations and tremors. One day, while her sisters were praying for her, it seemed to her that the nearby simple statue of the Virgin smiled at her and she felt cured.
The following year she made her first communion and it was a cloudless day for her in which she dedicated herself to Jesus. Her soul related to God with spontaneity and love. In spite of this, influenced by the religious tendencies of the time, she spent some time suffering from terrible scruples. Her sister Marie tried to help her with solid teaching.
At Christmas in 1886, a few months after Marie entered Carmel, Therese received what she called the “grace of her conversion” by which she overcame her extreme sensitivity and began to find happiness in forgetting about herself and giving pleasure to others.
The following year, after obtaining her father’s permission to enter Carmel, she made a pilgrimage to Rome where, in an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked the Pope’s permission to enter Carmel despite her youth.
On 9th April 1888, Therese entered Carmel and took the name of Therese of the Child Jesus. To this name she later added “and of the Holy Face”, when her father suffered periods of hallucinations and had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was a sickness he bore with great faith, but his daughters suffered much because of it.
In Carmel, Therese went deeply into Sacred Scripture, mainly the Gospels where she saw the imprints of Jesus. Also in the Old Testament writings, she was deeply moved when the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the maternal love of God or of the “Servant of Yahve”. St John of the Cross was her spiritual teacher, and through his writings she entered more deeply into her journey of love.
After her period of formation, she began to train the young sisters, but without the official “title”, since her sister Celine was the mistress of novices. She also wrote to two missionaries. By means of these letters, she established with them a relationship that was not only fraternal, but truly of spiritual direction. In an age when many believers offered themselves as victims for God’s wrath, Therese offered herself to his Merciful Love, understanding that divine justice– like the rest of God’s attributes – is always shot through with mercy. With the years, her experience of God’s gratuitous and unconditional love continued to increase, and she felt herself called to live in the appreciation and trusting abandonment of a child in its mother’s arms. This led her to understand the value of the smallest of works carried out for love (and not for gaining merit), refined in daily love, and the slightest details. She came to understand that love is her vocation in the Church. She was a simple woman, who lived without doing extraordinary things, without ecstasies or miracles, experiencing dryness in prayer and misunderstanding, things which never took away her calm happiness and gave her a peace that continued to fill her heart more and more.
During Easter 1896, Therese coughed up blood, a symptom of tuberculosis. Three days after, began her trial of faith, which lasted until her death. It was a trial which produced in her a state of not being able to believe in eternal life and which she describes in frightening detail. She coped with this by making greater acts of faith and love. She died on 30th September 1897.
Her writings are her Letters, some Poems, tiny theatrical works for community feasts, some Prayers, the Last Conversations– notes her sisters made during her illness, and the Story of a Soul. This last writing, tells her story of salvation, in doing so it revolutionized the spirituality of the Church to the point of her being declared a Doctor of the universal Church. She is also universal Patron of the Missions.
Her feast is celebrated on 1st October.