Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Virgin and Martyr

 1891 – 1942

   Edith Stein would have seemed an unlikely candidate to be a saint. Born to a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany, in1891, she lost her faith while still young, while her intellectual gifts opened up great opportunities for her. At university her intellectual gifts were recognized, and she earned her doctorate in philosophy in 1917.

   At the same time the horrors of World War I as well as the reflections her studies inspired in her brought her to the realization that atheism couldn’t respond to every need of the human heart. When she visited a sick friend and encountered the deep faith of his wife, she reflected, “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear It ... it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me - Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”

   At the time women were not allowed to become philosophy professors in Germany, so she used the years after the war to pursue her intellectual interests. Once, when visiting a friend, she found a biography of St. Theresa of Avila. She read the whole book in one night, so engrossing she found it,and soon after sought Baptism in the Catholic Church.

After her conversion in 1922 she continued to teach while also discerning whether she was called to be a nun. Her spiritual director encouraged her to continue to pursue her intellectual works. When the nazis took power in 1933 all possibility of teaching ended for her  given her Jewish background  and she entered the Carmelite Order, the same order to which St. Theresa of Avila had belonged. She took as her religious name Sister Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. As nazi violence against Jewish people increased, her order sent her to a convent in Holland where it was thought that she would be safe. From there, she wrote the following in 1941: “One can only gain a knowledge of The Cross if one has thoroughly experienced The Cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: ‘Ave, Crux, Spes unica’: I welcome you, Cross,our only hope.”

In 1942, in retaliation for a letter of the Dutch Bishops condemning nazi treatment of Jews, the nazi administration arrested all those who had converted to Christianity from Judaism, including Sr. Theresa Benedicta. She was sent to Auschwitz where she died in the gas chambers with so many others of her people on August 9.

As we celebrate St. Edith Stein’s memory this Tuesday, may we remember what her friend once said about her: “She is a witness to God's presence in a world where God is absent.”