Some people live a simple life that inspires the world. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is one of those few. It is hard to believe that a cloistered nun who only lived to be 24 could become so loved. The Little Flower, as she was called, became a saint just 28 years after her death.
It may not be surprising that the future saint was surrounded by a devoted Catholic family, but what was amazing was the intensity of her young life. She was born to a middle class French family on January 2, 1873. Her father, Louis, wanted to be a monk but ended up as a watchmaker. Her mother, Zelie, wanted to be a nun but became a lace maker. Instead, they married and had nine children, but only five daughters survived.
Young Thérèse had a feisty personality. Her mother once wrote that her daughter was "incredibly stubborn...one could put her in the cellar for a whole day!" The blond-haired, blue eyed child sometimes rolled on the floor with tantrums. However, she was quick to admit her mistakes, and her bubbling laughter lightened their home like baking soda in bread dough. Thérèse had an especially close relationship with her father.
The family faced heartache when Zelie died of breast cancer on August 28, 1877. Thérèse was only four years old. Soon after that, her family moved to Lisieux. Thérèse's personality changed after her mother's death, and she became serious and over-sensitive. Her older sister, Pauline, became her "second mother." Her father tried to help her by taking her on long walks. Each day they visited a different church to take Holy Communion.
Pauline became Thérèse's first teacher, but Louis enrolled Thérèse in a school in October, 1881. Thérèse called the five years she spent there "the saddest of my life." The nuns moved the eight-year-old into classes for fourteen-year-olds, but Thérèse's keen mind was still bored. She preferred her family's company to playing with other children.
Thérèse's heart was broken again when she was nine. Pauline, who was twenty-one, decided to become a nun and enter a Carmelite convent! Thérèse wrote, "I was about to lose my second mother. Ah, how can I express the anguish of my heart?" It was as though Thérèse's health was affected by her loss. The following winter, Thérèse became so sick several months later that many thought she was dying. Doctors didn't know what to do about her insomnia and headaches. And it was not the doctors who seemed to cure her!
Thérèse had a sense of humor, even when she was sick. She said that she didn't like everyone looking at her as though she was "a string of onions!" She began to pray. Her sisters were also praying with her. Suddenly, Thérèse saw the statue of the Virgin Mary smile at her! She was cured instantly! She tried to keep the Virgin's smile a secret, but soon everyone knew her story. Her sisters were thrilled with the answer to their prayers! However, the family soon changed again when Thérèse's remaining sisters left home to join religious orders. Thérèse and one sister were the only ones left at home with their father.
In spite of these heartaches, Thérèse still tried to love God. Like everyone else, Thérèse had things to overcome. She had a sensitive nature. The slightest criticism made her cry! Then she would cry more because she cried! Thérèse struggled to have more control of her emotions. She prayed to Jesus to help her so she wouldn't cry so much about everything!