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Article: AUGUST 9 + Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

AUGUST 9 + Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

AUGUST 9 + Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was the youngest born into a large Jewish family in Breslau, Germany in 1891. She was an outstanding student and was well versed in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology (the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being). Through her studies, Edith met several Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she admired.

After earning her degree with the highest honors from Gottingen University in 1915, she served as a nurse in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. She returned to academic work in 1916, earning her doctorate after writing a highly-regarded thesis on the phenomenon of empathy. She remained interested in the idea of religious commitment, but had not yet made such a commitment herself.

In 1921, while visiting friends, Edith spent an entire night reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. “When I had finished the book,” she later recalled, “I said to myself: This is the truth.” She was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1922.

Edith intended to join the Carmelites immediately after her conversion, but would ultimately have to wait another 11 years before taking this step. Instead, she taught at a Dominican school, and gave numerous public lectures on women's issues. She spent 1931 writing a study of St. Thomas Aquinas, and took a university teaching position in 1932.

In 1933, the rise of Nazism, combined with Edith's Jewish ethnicity, put an end to her teaching career. After a painful parting with her mother, who did not understand her Christian conversion, she entered a Carmelite convent in 1934, taking the name “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross” as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering.

After completing her final work — a study of St. John of the Cross entitled “The Science of the Cross” — Teresa Benedicta was arrested along with her sister Rosa (who had also become a Catholic), and the members of her religious community, on August 7, 1942. The arrests came in retaliation against a protest letter by the Dutch Bishops, decrying the Nazi treatment of Jews.

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the concentration camp in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.

The writings of Edith Stein fill 17 volumes. She was a brilliant woman of integrity and she followed the truth wherever it led her. Sister Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D. , translator of several of Edith’s books, sums up this saint with the phrase, “Learn to live at God’s hands.”

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