This post is part of a series on the lives of the saints. If you are interested in more information about what a saint is, check out this introductory post. Basically, saints are holy men and women whose lives demonstrate the glory of God and are now in heaven in his presence.
Today’s new friend is St. Edith Stein also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Another 20th century saint, this one has a special place in my heart as she is the patron of the church in which I was confirmed, married, and our Anna was baptized. In 2001, my family and I attended the first service at the first church named after St. Edith Stein. The service was in my junior high cafeteria, and it began a wonderful journey for our family, under the patronage of St. Edith Stein.
St. Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) on Yom Kippur, October 12, 1891 to a prominent Jewish family. She was the youngest of a large family. After her father died when she was two years old, her mother took on the family business and captained it to great success. Family and friends attested that Edith was a gifted child, and born in a family that encouraged critical thinking. At the age of fourteen, despite an admiration for her mother’s Jewish faith, she stopped believing in God.
Afte grade school, St. Edith attended both the University of Breslau and University of Gottingen, she briefly paused her education during WWI, when she volunteered as a Red Cross nurse in an infectious disease hospital. She eventually pursued and received a doctorate in philosophy, focusing and excelling in phenomenology, the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. Her dissertation, inspired by her time as a nurse, was titled “On the Problem of Empathy”. After her studies, she struggled to find work as a university professor, as many German institutions were not ready for a female professor, despite her clear qualifications.
Edith eventually became a member of the faculty at the University of Freiburg, where she worked as a teaching assistant to prominent professor Edmund Husserl. In the years following her graduation, she began to notice and investigate the faith of those around her and she began to think critically about her views of religion.
After staying up all night devouring the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Edith felt like a veil had been lifted and thinking back on her night of her conversion wrote the following.
‘I picked a book at random and took out a large volume. It bore the title The Life of St. Teresa of Avila. I began to read, was at once captivated, and did not stop till I had reached the end. As I closed the book – it was already dawn – I said, “This is the truth”.’
She was resolved to follow truth, which led to her Baptism in 1922, at 30 years of age in the Cathedral Church in Cologne, Germany. Although, her conversion was not easily accepted by her Jewish family, she said the truth would allow no other action.
What I love most about St. Edith Stein’s story to Christ is that through her conversion she never released her love and mind for reason and philosophy. Reason led her to a belief in God and was compatible with her faith.
As she continued to study and grow St. Edith Stein developed a love and devotion to the cross of Jesus, meditating on and accepting the role of the cross in Christian history along with her own personal crosses.
After her conversion, St. Edith Stein began teaching at the Dominican nuns’ school in Speyer from 1923 to 1931. She also continued to find her place in the academic world of philosophy and theology, by corresponded with many leading German professors and translating Thomas Aquinas’ Disputed Questions on Truth.
During this time she also worked to reconcile her study of phenomenology with Catholic thought, specifically Thomism, through writing, research, and reason. By 1931, she was a professor at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Munster. After a lot of hard work and closed doors, St. Edith Stein became a renowned lecturer, speaking at philosophical seminars in France, Switzerland, and Austria.
During this time, as the Nazi party grew in Germany, St. Edith Stein wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI describing the situation in Germany and imploring the Vatican to take a stand against the tide of anti-Semitism. Her letter received no answer, and it is not known whether the Pope ever read it. But in 1937, the Pope issued an encyclical in which he criticized Nazism and condemned antisemitism.
Twelve years after her baptism, in 1934, with a great love for both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, St. Edith Stein chooses to become a Carmelite nun, taking the name Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
She continued working as a lecturer of philosophy until Nazi pressure ended her position. She lived at the monastery in Cologne where she studied and devoted herself to kreuzewissenschaft, the science of the cross. Her life began to focus on the mystery of joy in suffering, of victory in failure, and of dying and rising with Christ.
In 1938, she made her final vow and permanent commitment to the Carmelite order. At the same time, there was fear of Nazi retribution amongst the Carmelites in Munich because they had sheltered vulnerable Jewish and Catholic citizens. Eventually, her superior insisted she move to a Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands.
As pressures and conflicts grew, the Dutch Catholic church began to formally protest the policies of the Nazi occupation troops and the treatment of the Jewish people. One Sunday the bishop requested that a letter that unhesitatingly denounced the darkness of Nazism and Fascism was read aloud in the churches of Holland. Throughout the next week the Nazi’s arrested hundreds of Catholic Jews in retailiation. St. Edith Stein and her sister Rose were among those arrested. The sisters were transported by cattle train with 987 other prisoners, many of whom were dying in the given traditions, to Auschwitz in August 1942. She is said to have huddled with terrified children, speaking reassuring words and attempting to offer comfort.
As the Nazi’s led them away, St. Edith Stein said to her sister “Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.” These sisters offered their lives in solidarity with the Jewish people. Alongside millions of other Jews and dissenting citizens, St. Edith Stein was striped of all dignity, starved, and brutally abused. She died the same year in Auschwitz gas chambers.
Edith Stein was beautified in 1987 and canonized in 1998, both by St. Pope John Paul II.
The Saint in Art:
St. Edith Stein is typically depicted in art wearing a Discalced Carmelite nun’s habit, a blue veil and brown tunic. Other common symbols are the yellow star of David, flames, a book, barbed wire, and/or a cross.
Patron Saint Of
St. Edith Stein is a patroness of martyrs, loss of parents, converted Jews, World Youth Day, and is one of the six patron saints of Europe.
In my humble opinion she is also a great friend to truth seekers, converts, and those forced to be brave.
“Ave Cruz, Spec Unica” translates to “Hail Cross, Our Only Hope.” – St. Edith Stein, the words that were scribbled on a scrap of paper and left behind for her Mother Superior when she left for Auschwitz. Here she was quoting many other great philosophers of the cross.
“Those who seek the truth, seek God, whether they realize it or not.”- St. Edith Stein
“To suffer and to be happy although suffering, is to have one’s feet on the earth, To walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels. This is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.”- St. Edith Stein
“Do you want to be totally united to the Crucified? If you are serious about this, you will be present, by the power of His Cross, at every front, at every place of sorrow, bringing to those who suffer comfort, healing and salvation.” – St. Edith Stein
“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace.”- St. Edith Stein
“On the question of relating to our fellowman – our neighbor’s spiritual need transcends every commandment. Everything else we do is a means to an end. But love is an end already, since God is love.”– St. Edith Stein
Emphases my own.
Ways to Celebrate
Feast Day: August 9
1.) Do some research about Auschwitz. As hard as it may be, familiarize yourself with the history so that it is something that we never allow to happen again in human history. You can also read this lesson about religious life in Auschwitz.
2.) St. Edith Stein teaches us how to relate to our brothers and sisters, both Jewish and others alike, by standing and sacrificing alongside of them. Consider what you can do to stand up for current injustices.
“Those who remain silent are responsible.”- St. Edith Stein
3.) Celebrate with our Jewish brothers and sisters by eating kosher, a honey cake, latkes, or kugel. You can also celebrate by listening to Jewish folk music and stand firm in the truth that salvation is from the Jews. You can also check out this list of conversion stories from Jewish brothers and sisters.
5.) This brilliant and prolific Saint left her philosophical work for others to read. Check out Edith Stein’s writings. A few I found particularly interesting are her Essays on Woman, The Vocation of the Soul to Eternal Life, Verses For a Holy Spirit Novena, and The Science of the Cross. You can also check out a quick post about this strong lady’s thoughts on womanhood. Girl power!
6.) St. Edith Stein appreciated a good book, an earnest struggle toward truth, and the arts. Find a book, artist, or activity that brings you closer to beauty and truth and let yourself be immersed in the art or experience. Maybe pull an all nighter with the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, like our dear saint did.
7.) Rethink your morning routine with this St. Teresa quote. Consider how to change the first thing on your mind and if there is a way to offer more of this time to God in prayer.
“Let go of your plans. The first hour of your morning belongs to God. Tackle the day’s work that he charges you with, and he will give you the power to accomplish it.”
Dear St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross
Child of the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur,
Daughter of Abraham,
Bride of Christ,
Seeker of truth,
Scholar of the Church
Handmaid of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,
Servant of the Suffering Servant,
Presence of mercy,
Victim of victimizers,
Embracer of the cross of Christ-like love,
Martyr of Auschwitz,
Imitator of Jesus,
Conqueror of evil,
Friend of God, Edith,
Please pray for me. Please intercede for this petition of mine. (Here mention your petition).
Join me in celebrating this strong woman and brave Saint. Hopefully you have gained a new friend in heaven. I know I have.
To meet more saints, check out some of my earlier posts in this series:
- What is a saint?…Making new friends in heaven picture
- St. Teresa of Ávila
- St. John Paul II
- St. Blaise
- St. Gianna Molla