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St. Edith Stein

St. Edith Stein by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:

From childhood Edith Stein was a brilliant scholar. She earned her doctorate at 25, studying under Edmund Husserl. Although an avowed atheist as a teenager, when she reached adulthood she was impressed by the inner strength of her Catholic friends and was captivated by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Seeking to follow St. Teresa's example, she became a Catholic, but waited 12 years to enter the Discalced Carmelites, heeding the advice of her confessors and out of compassion for her Jewish mother. During those 12 years she taught at the Dominican school in Speyer. She cared for the poor and developed her own life of prayer. With Hitler's rise to power, her public influence came to an end, because of her Jewish heritage, and her spiritual advisers finally allowed her to enter the Carmel at Cologne.

As a Carmelite nun she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She took her turn at the various domestic chores in the convent and continued writing on Catholic subjects. In 1938 she was sent to another monastery in Holland, to escape persecution, but was rounded up by the Nazis in 1942 with other Jewish members of Catholic religious orders. While in the concentration camp, she and her sister Rosa cared for children abandoned by fear-crazed mothers. Witnesses recall her calm and composed countenance, while giving assistance wherever she could. On August 9, 1942, she died in a gas chamber with her sister at Auschwitz.

In this icon she wears the yellow Star of David that the Nazis forced all Jews to wear, as a symbol of her solidarity with her people. The wood cross in her arms refers to her last great work, The Science of the Cross, which she wrote in her years as a Carmelite nun. This book is her testament to the world, as the culmination of her entire life.

Her feast day is August 9.

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Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (German: Teresia Benedicta vom Kreuz, Latin: Teresia Benedicta a Cruce) (12 October 1891 – 9 August 1942), was a German Jewish philosopher who converted to the Roman Catholic Church and became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She is a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church.

She was born into an observant Jewish family, but was an atheist by her teenage years. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, in 1915 she took lessons to become a nursing assistant and worked in a hospital for the prevention of disease outbreaks. After completing her doctoral thesis in 1916 from the University of Göttingen, she obtained an assistantship at the University of Freiburg.

From reading the works of the reformer of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Jesus, OCD, she was drawn to the Catholic Faith. She was baptized on 1 January 1922 into the Roman Catholic Church. At that point she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, but was dissuaded by her spiritual mentors. She then taught at a Catholic school of education in Speyer.

As a result of the requirement of an "Aryan certificate" for civil servants promulgated by the Nazi government in April 1933 as part of its Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, she had to quit her teaching position. She was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October. She received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross ("Teresa blessed by the Cross"). In 1938 she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands for their safety. Despite the Nazi invasion of that state in 1940, they remained undisturbed until they were arrested by the Nazis on 2 August 1942 and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942.

She was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1998. She is one of the six patron saints of Europe, together with St. Benedict of Nursia, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Catherine of Siena.

Born: October 12, 1891 at Breslaw, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) as Edith Stein

Died: Gassed on August 9, 1942 in the ovens of Auschwitz