Monday, August 9, 2010

Saint of the Day - St. Edith Stein/Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891 at Breslaw, Dolnoslaskie, Germany. She was the youngest of seven children in a Jewish family.

At the age of 13, after finishing grammar school, Edith proclaimed that she no longer believed in God and "consciously stopped praying." By 1907 she had begun "a serious search for truth."

In 1911, Edith completed high school and began studies at the University of Breslau where she was a brilliant student and philosopher. It was during this time that she had her first encounter with the Gospel. However, in the summer of 1912, she began to suffer from severe depression stemming from an inability to discern any meaning in life.

In 1913, Edith went to the University of Gottingen to continue her studies. At this time she began to entertain religious questions and obtained the first relief for her depression upon witnessing a presentation of "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Between her first encounter with Catholicism in 1914 and the year of 1918, Edith's atheism began to fall away, until, in her own words, "my unbelief collapsed." During these years, Edith had served as a Red Cross nurse in World War I and received her PhD in philosophy summa cum laude. It was not until 1921 that Edith began to entertain the idea of Catholicism. Her study of the life of St. Teresa of Avila led her to purchase a missal and catechism and begin "reading herself into" Catholicism before finally working up the courage to approach the parish priest in order to request baptism.

On January 1, 1922, Edith Stein was baptized into the Catholic faith. She began that very day to request permission to enter Carmel, the religious order which her spiritual mother, St. Teresa of Avila, had reformed. On February 2 that same year, Edith was confirmed in the faith. She spent the next ten years teaching and writing, especially about women and the Church. On June 19, 1933, about six months after Hitler's ascension to power, Edith was finally accepted into Carmel. Beginning on July 16 she spent one month as an extern at Carmel before making a final visit to her mother. She officially entered Carmel on October 14, 1933, taking the name Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and received the habit on April 15, 1934. During her novitiate, the Carmelite provincial requested that Edith continue to compose her autobiography, which she had begun writing the year before. Edith made her first profession of vows as a Carmelite on Easter 1935, her Final Profession of vows on April 21, 1938, and received the Black Veil in Public Ceremony on May 1, 1938.

Seven months later, on November 8, Germany was rent by the horror of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, in which Nazis throughout the country went on a rampage against Jewish citizens. Edith, being of Jewish heritage, was in great danger. Negotiations immediately began to transfer her to Echt Carmel in Holland. On the night of December 31 she was smuggled across the border.

On March 26, 1939, Edith asked permission of her superiors to offer herself to the Lord in prayer as a "victim for real peace."
In 1940 Edith's sister, Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism and entered Carmel, joined her sister in Holland. However, the two were not long safe. In 1941 an edict was passed demanding the deportation of all non-Aryan Germans residing in Holland by December 15 of that year. Negotiations again began for Edith and Rosa to be transferred to the Carmel of Le Paquier in Switzerland. On September 1 the government ordered that all Jews, including those of Jewish heritage, wear the Star of David on their clothing. In response to these oppressive edicts the Dutch Bishops issued their Pastoral on Racism and Antisemitism.
The Nazis swiftly retaliated with a move for the deportation of all Catholics of Jewish heritage by the end of the week. At five p.m. on August 2, Edith and Rosa were arrested by the SS while they were at meditation in the Carmel and brought to Amersfoort Prison Camp. On August 5 they were transferred to Westerbork Concentration Camp and on August 7 they began the journey to Auschwitz.

On August 9, 1942 Edith and Rosa Stein were led to their deaths in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Edith offered this final sacrifice "for real peace."

Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was canonized on October 11, 1998 by Pope John Paul II. She is the patron saint: against the death of parents; of Europe; and of martyrs.

No comments: