Thursday, August 9, 2012

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross  was a German-Jewish philosopher, nun, a martyr and a highly unusual saint of the Catholic Church. Born into an observant Jewish family in Breslau, a German province of Prussia on October 12, 1891, she was named Edith and her family name was Stein. Edith was a very gifted child who enjoyed learning. She greatly admired her mother's strong faith; however, by her teenage years Stein had become an atheist.  In 1916, she received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Göttingen, and soon afterwards became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.

As Edith Stein, just before her conversion to the Catholic faith
While Stein had earlier contacts with Catholicism, it was her reading of the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila on a holiday in Göttingen in 1921 that caused her conversion. She was eventually baptized on January 1, 1922, gave up her job at Freiburg and started to teach at a Dominican girls' school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932.
In a letter to Pope Pius XI, she denounced the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime "to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name.” Although she never received an answer, in 1937, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical written in German, "Mit brennender Sorge," in which he criticized Nazism, and condemned anti-semitism. I’m sure her letter had some influence on this.
St Teresa at Auschwitz concentration camp
She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery Our Lady of Peace at Cologne in 1933 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Although she moved from Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution, in 1942 she was not safe there. The Dutch Bishops had a public statement read in all the churches of the country in July 1942, condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response a few weeks later, the Reichskomissar ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared. Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were gassed on August 9, 1942 when Edith was only 50. Edith Stein was canonized as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1998; however, she is also often referred to as "Saint Edith Stein".

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