St. Teresa Benedicta/Edith Stein

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70 years ago today (Thursday, August 9), philosopher Edith Stein, whose religious name as a discalced Carmelite was Theresa Benedicta, died in Auschwitz. From CatholicCulture.org:


St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was born of Jewish parents in 1891, becoming an influential philosopher following her extensive studies at major German universities. After her conversion to Catholicism she became a major force in German intellectual life, entering the Discalced Carmelites in 1933. Sister Teresa Benedicta was arrested by the Nazi regime in 1942, along with all Catholics of Jewish extraction and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz that same year.

A brilliant philosopher who stopped believing in God when she was fourteen, Edith Stein was so captivated by reading the autobiography of Teresa of Avila that she began a spiritual journey that led to her Baptism in 1922. Twelve years later she imitated Teresa by becoming a Carmelite, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Born into a prominent Jewish family in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland), Edith abandoned Judaism in her teens. As a student at the University of Gottingen, she became fascinated by phenomenology, an approach to philosophy. Excelling as a protege of Edmund Husserl, one of the leading phenomenologists, Edith earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1916. She continued as a university teacher until 1922 when she moved to a Dominican school in Speyer; her appointment as lecturer at the Educational Institute of Munich ended under pressure from the Nazis.

After living in the Cologne Carmel (1934-1938), she moved to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands. The Nazis occupied that country in 1940. In retaliation for being denounced by the Dutch bishops, the Nazis arrested all Dutch Jews who had become Christians. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, also a Catholic, died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.

Pope John Paul II beatified Teresa Benedicta in 1987 and canonized her in 1998.

Excerpted from the Saint of the Day, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

Patron: Europe; loss of parents; martyrs.

Things to Do:

  • In the month of August we celebrate two martyrs of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa Benedicta. We need to pray, hard and often that our world does not return to the inhumanity to man. The acceptance of euthanasia and abortion, stem cell research, IVF, are the first steps to deciding who can live or who can die. Offer a Mass, say a rosary, offer sacrifices, etc. to end abortion and other sins against mankind. Read about Auschwitz and ponder the modern gas chambers in every state of our Union and resolve to do all that you can to end the killing.
  • Read more about Edith Stein at this site.
  • To teach the children more about this saint, discuss topics such as these at age-appropriate levels :
    1. Definition of a martyr.
    2. Discussion of the Jews as our older brothers and sisters in the Faith. In the Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) we refer to “Abraham, our father in faith.”
    3. Discussion of the call of Truth, its claim on us, despite the cost.
    4. Edith Stein’s reason for taking the name “Teresa.”
    5. Discussion of patron saints and what it means to our daily lives.
    6. For younger children, discuss on simpler terms ideas such as complete love of God; our daily crosses; meaning of sacrifice; and how to make small but meaningful sacrifices for God.
  • Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta) was a philosopher and prolific writer. Her writings are available from ICS Publications. Of special note is her Essays on Woman.
  • Catholic Culture’s library contains two writings of Edith Stein:
    The Vocation of the Soul to Eternal Life, and Verses For a Pentecost Novena
  • For more about Edith Stein, see Catholic Culture’s Search Engine and type “Edith Stein”.

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