What some Carmelites who lived with St. Therese of Lisieux really thought about her

After St. Therese's memoir, Story of a Soul, appeared in 1898, people began to report graces received at her intercession, and pilgrims came to Lisieux to pray at her grave.  The question of her canonization arose.  On October 15, 1907, Bishop Lemonnier, newly appointed bishop of Bayeux, called for information from those who had known Sister Therese of the Child Jesus; he was investigating her reputation for sanctity within the diocese.  On November 9, 1907, Sister Therese of Jesus, who had lived in the  Lisieux Carmel since before Therese entered, but who later left the Carmel at her own request in 1909, answered him with this letter (excerpts):

Sister Therese of Jesus  Monseigneur,

I loved little sister Therese of the Child Jesus very much because of her youth. She was a good child, never making trouble, loving to give services. A good little character; she had her imperfections: everyone does.


I have never seen anything that suggests she could be raised to the altar. Getting up in the morning, filling her little day, never overloaded.


 I lived 9 years and 6 months with her. I saw a child feted, cherished, adored, always placed on a pedestal. The Mother Prioress (then Marie de Gonzague) doted on her.   


The blood sisters of little Thérèse considered her a paragon, always giving her compliments, telling her that she was a saint, and the rest. Ah! I thought: they are imprudent. Here is a child who is praised to the skies. When her hair was cut, they kept the hair as a relic. It is easy to be amiable when you are fawned upon."


(Translation copyright 2012 by Maureen O'Riordan from the French text, copyright Archives of the Lisieux Carmel). 


Sister Therese of Jesus was not the only Carmelite of Lisieux who held that opinion.  On March 16, 1911, Sister Marie-Madeleine, Therese's novice, testified at the diocesan process:

"Generally speaking, the Servant of  God was unknown and even misunderstood in the convent.  Apart from some novices who were close to her, no one noticed the heroism of her life.  . . . As for the rest of the sisters, about half of them said she was a good little nun, a gentle person, but that she had never had to suffer and that her life had been rather insignificant.  The other half were affected by the party animosity I mentioned, so their view was more unfavorable.  These said she had been spoiled by her sisters, but they were unable, nevertheless, to make any more explicit criticism."  (St. Therese of Lisieux by those who knew her, tr. Christopher O'Mahony, O.C.D.  Veritas: Dublin, 1975, p. 264).

Clearly Sister Therese of Jesus, early orphaned, who had no real family life in her childhood, belonged to that "other half" who disliked the "Martin clan."  Her letter shows that, when St. Therese said she wanted to be unknown to those with whom she lived, she meant business.  She succeeded in hiding her holiness from many of them.  May it encourage us to allow God to make us holy in the midst of human misunderstanding.