Thérèse of Lisieux Is Canonized Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After waiving the fifty-year waiting period required by canon law, Pope Pius XI proclaimed Thérèse Martin a saint of the Roman Catholic Church less than twenty-eight years after her death.

Summary of Event

The abbreviated life of Thérèse Martin is marked by one pivotal paradox: Somehow, this obscure Carmelite nun, who did nothing extraordinary in her Normandy convent, became, according to popes, bishops, and millions of Catholics, the greatest saint of the modern world. In an attempt to explain this paradox, some scholars have offered a concomitance of fortuitous events, such as the exemplarily devout family in which she, as the youngest of five daughters, was treated as the favorite. Others have pointed to her special linguistic gift: In her spiritual autobiography, she was able to express her religious insights in a naïve simplicity that eventually touched the lives of millions in many countries. Through what she called her “little way,” she helped to revive Jesus Christ’s ideal of holiness, in which a person becomes a saint not through great words or deeds but through faithfulness to the will of God in one’s vocation, however humble. Particularly during her final eighteen months, when tuberculosis caused her a great deal of suffering, she was able, despite occasional thoughts of suicide, to achieve the self-renunciation that led to her ultimate liberation. One writer compared her journey to that of a “perfected butterfly” emerging from the chrysalis of her torturned soul. [kw]Thérèse of Lisieux Is Canonized (May 17, 1925) [kw]Lisieux Is Canonized, Thérèse of (May 17, 1925) [kw]Canonized, Thérèse of Lisieux Is (May 17, 1925) Roman Catholic Church;saints Saints, canonization [g]France;May 17, 1925: Thérèse of Lisieux Is Canonized[06440] [g]Italy;May 17, 1925: Thérèse of Lisieux Is Canonized[06440] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;May 17, 1925: Thérèse of Lisieux Is Canonized[06440] Martin, Thérèse Pius XI Benedict XV Pius X Martin, Pauline Gonzague, Marie de Martin, Marie

Thérèse’s fellow nuns were deeply affected by Thérèse’s death and by her promise to do good on earth from heaven. Pauline Martin, who was both Thérèse’s biological sister and the prioress of Thérèse’s convent (where she was known as Mother Agnes of Jesus) began the process of canonization by circulating Thérèse’s writings to Carmelite convents. Twenty-one months before she died, Thérèse, at the request of Mother Agnes, began writing down her childhood memories in a notebook. In 1896, at the request of her godmother, Marie of the Sacred Heart, Thérèse analyzed her vocation, and a few months before her death, Thérèse complied with a request from Marie de Gonzague (Mother Agnes’s successor as prioress) that Thérèse complete the recollections of her life at Carmel.

The unification of these notebooks with other material was largely the work of Mother Agnes, although Marie de Gonzague insisted on having Thérèse’s reminiscences directed to her. On September 30, 1898, a year after Thérèse’s death, two thousand copies of Thérèse’s L’Histoire d’une âme (1898; The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, 1952) Story of a Soul, The (Martin, T.) were printed. During the early decades of the twentieth century, the demand for this book increased so quickly that by the time of Thérèse’s canonization, more than a million copies of the French edition had been sold. Within three years of the book’s publication, the convent was receiving reports of cures in Thérèse’s name, and by the date of her canonization, the convent’s collection of cures, answered prayers, and other favors contained more than three thousand pages.

The formal process of making a saint usually begins at the diocesan level, and early in the twentieth century evidence of Thérèse’s holiness was collected and tested. Testimonials to her sanctity were also given. For example, Thérèse’s sister Pauline’s testimonial recounted Thérèse’s courage during her final illness, and Pauline also stated that most of the nuns who entered Carmel after 1897 did so because of Thérèse. Thérèse’s sister Marie provided letters received by the convent, as many as a hundred a day, thanking Thérèse for favors, cures, and conversions. By 1910, church officials had become convinced that Thérèse had lived a heroically virtuous life, and they bestowed on her the traditional title of venerable.

In response to the requests of many bishops and religious superiors, Pius X signed a decree initiating the process of Thérèse’s beatification in June of 1914. This process was entrusted to the postulator-general of the Discalced Carmelites. Consultors and theological experts in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints began to assess the accumulated evidence, especially the miracles attributed to the Venerable Thérèse’s intercession. By August of 1921, Benedict XV, convinced that Thérèse had exhibited extraordinary valor in her practice of the theological and cardinal virtues, gave an address on her “way of spiritual childhood.” On March 6, 1923, Cardinal Vico, the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, formally declared (with the unanimous agreement of the doctors who had examined the cures) that two of the miracles attributed to Thérèse’s intercession were genuine and that her beatification could be safely undertaken. Pope Pius XI then issued a brief for the ceremony, which took place at St. Peter’s Basilica on April 29, 1923. The papal mass and beatification ritual were very well attended.

On July 27, 1923, the pope commissioned the Sacred Congregation of Rites to continue the investigations that would lead to Thérèse’s canonization. The promoter of the faith, popularly known as the “devil’s advocate,” raised objections against Thérèse’s cause, including her emphasis on God’s mercy to the neglect of justice. Medical doctors were appointed to examine miraculous cures, and theologians studied Thérèse’s writings, which were much more extensive than generally recognized. In addition to her spiritual autobiography, she wrote 266 letters and 54 poems, many of which concerned the mystery of God’s love in her life and in the lives of others. She also composed prayers and little plays. Contained in these writings were more than a thousand biblical quotations.

On March 17, 1925, after hearing from Cardinal Vico and other cardinals and consultors, Pius XI solemnly proclaimed that the two new cures attributed to Thérèse’s intercession were “certainly miraculous.” Thérèse’s canonization could therefore proceed, and the pope convoked a secret consistory of cardinals on March 30, 1925, to seek their advice on the question of this canonization, which met with their unanimous and enthusiastic approval. At a public consistory held on April 2, all the cardinals present encouraged the pope to decide in favor of Thérèse’s sanctity. The pope then sought the opinions of patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops from around the world, and he found that they also were united in favor of this canonization, which the pope decided to celebrate on May 17 in St. Peter’s.

In a canonization ceremony, a person previously beatified is publicly recognized as a saint who has entered into eternal glory. Vatican officials received more than 200,000 applications for the 50,000 available seats in St. Peter’s. When the day of Thérèse’s canonization arrived, more than half a million people celebrated the event in Rome, and millions more celebrated in other countries. In the papal mass, Pius XI, who considered Thérèse “the star of his pontificate,” chose as the theme of his homily Jesus Christ’s admonition that “unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” In his bull of canonization, the pope noted that Thérèse had achieved sanctity “without going beyond the common order of things.” Her “little way” was one of trust and total surrender to God’s will. She believed that the chief architect of her perfection was not herself but God. Like her, Pius said, Christians must abandon themselves, like infants, to the arms of a caring God—an appropriate sentiment for a nun who chose to call herself “Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”


In the years after her canonization, Thérèse’s influence in and outside of the Catholic Church expanded and deepened. Her writings were translated into more than fifty languages, and hundreds of biographies were published. To accommodate the many pilgrims visiting Lisieux, a large basilica was erected in her honor in the 1920’s. In 1927, Pius XI, in response to the requests of many bishops, proclaimed Thérèse copatron of missions with St. Francis Xavier. She was later named copatron of France, along with St. Joan of Arc, whom Thérèse had deeply admired. She was also named patron saint of florists, aviators, and those suffering from AIDS.

Thérèse was contemplative—her struggles with atheism touched on issues that concerned the French existentialists—but her message also appealed to such social activists as Dorothy Day, who was converted from atheism to Catholicism by reading The Story of a Soul.

Surprisingly, Thérèse also influenced several modern writers. In his Journal d’un curé de campagne (1936; The Diary of a Country Priest, 1937), Diary of a Country Priest, The (Bernanos) Georges Bernanos placed several of Thérèse’s sayings in the mouth of his anguished curé. In Graham Greene’s How Father Quixote Became a Monsignor (1980), Thérèse is the “Dulcinea” of the quixotic priest. Jack Kerouac, the quintessential Beat generation writer, was fascinated by this nun’s poems, prayers, and passion for holiness. Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson beieved that Thérèse was a greater mystic than Saint Teresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta joyfully informed people that she had taken her religious name not from the great Teresa of Avila but from the “Little Flower,” Thérèse of Lisieux. Thérèse was also beloved by important churchmen. While he was nuncio in Paris, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, often visited Lisieux. When Pope John Paul II, on the hundredth anniversary of Thérèse’s death, named her a doctor of the universal church, she joined the ranks of such spiritual giants as Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Augustine, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Roman Catholic Church;saints Saints, canonization

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. The famous Swiss theologian has reworked spiritual biographies published on these two holy Carmelites in 1950 and 1953 to emphasize their comparable mission to “open up the treasures of God’s Word to ordinary believers.” Chronologies, but no index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goerres, Ida Friedericke. The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. New York: Pantheon, 1959. This English translation of the eighth revised edition of a very successful book originally published in German represents the author’s attempt to discover the “true Thérèse” based on her writings (before they were edited). Selected bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harrison, Kathryn. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Penguin Life. New York: Viking Press, 2003. This brief account by a novelist emphasizes psychological analysis rather than the saint’s rootedness in scripture and the truths of the Catholic faith.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Thérèse. Autobiography of a Saint. London: Fount, 1960. This translation by Ronald Knox from the facsimile of Thérèse Martin’s manuscripts made the unedited versions of her notebooks available to English readers for the first time.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ulanov, Barry. The Making of a Modern Saint: A Biographical Study of Thérèse of Lisieux. 1966. Reprint. Springfield, Ill.: Templegate, 2004. An astute analysis of Thérèse’s oeuvre by a writer who had published more than forty books by the time of his death in 2000. He admired this saint’s ability to find dignity in the smallness and pain of everyday life.

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Categories: History