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Saint Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)

Saint Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)
  • Century: 20th Century
  • Patronage: Loss of Parents, Converted Jews, Martyrs, World Youth Days
  • Feast Day: August 9th

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was born Edith Stein on October 12, 1891, and died on August 9th, 1942.  She was born in Germany into an observant Jewish family. She was gifted, enjoyed learning, and admired her mother’s strong faith.  However, by her teenage years she had become an atheist. 

At the age of twenty-five, Stein received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Gottingen.  She then became a member of the faculty.  While Stein had earlier contacts with Catholicism, it was her reading the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Avila that caused her conversion.  She was baptized in 1922, and began to teach at the Dominican Nuns schools in Speyer.  While there, the Nazi government forced her to resign her post in 1933.  She wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI asking him to “Put a stop to this abuse in Christ’s name” – as she wanted the Nazi regime stopped. 

Stein’s letter received no answer, and it is not known for sure whether Pius XI ever even read it.  However, in 1937 he issued an encyclical written in German in which he criticized Nazism, and condemned anti-Semitism. 

She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery at Cologne in 1933 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  In order to avoid the growing nazi threat, she was transferred to the Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands.  Even so, Stein was not safe in the Netherlands.  In 1942 the Dutch Bishop’s Conference had a public statement read in al the churches of the country condemning Nazi racism.  This upset the powers in charge, and they ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared.   

Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they are presumed to have been gassed on August 9, 1942.  Edith Stein was 50 years old.  She was beatified as a martyr in 1987 by Pope John Paul II, and then canonized by him eleven years later in 1998.  Today there are many schools named in tribute of St. Teresa Benedicta in Germany, Netherlands, and in Canada.  She is also sometimes known as St. Edith Stein. 

Practical Take Away

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein, shows us becoming a great saint of our Church is possible today.  She was a Jewish girl who converted to Catholisicsm in 1922, and eventually was martyred at Auschwitz Concentration Camp because of her faith.  She knew the dangers and could have been sent anywhere to preserve her life as a Sister, but she went to her death with dignity.  Her life shows us how one can go from being Jewish to an athiest, to a conversion of becoming Catholic.  She shows us the path to conversion, and was martyred at the age of 50.  Saints being martyred for their faith was not something that just happened centuries ago, but also in recent years.