The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is officially celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thérèse Martin – St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Born on January 2, 1873, she became a Discalced Carmelite nun and lived until the age of 24 in the cloistered Carmelite convent of Lisieux, in French Normandy.
The Catholic Church has also convened a Jubilee Year to commemorate the birth of the French mystic, author, and doctor of the church. This past January 8, the Holy Doors of the Basilicas of Lisieux and of Alençon were opened simultaneously, marking the beginning of the Year. The Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, Monsignor Habert, presided over the act. In the afternoon, the first mass for pilgrims was celebrated.
Fr. Thierry Hénault-Morel, rector of the Shrine of Alençon (Thérèse’s hometown), explains that “every two years, UNESCO pays tribute to personalities who, each in their own way, have worked and continue to work in the fields of education, the promotion of women, culture, science and the building of peace.”
UNESCO also hopes this tribute brings greater visibility and justice to women who have promoted the values of peace through their actions and works.
Given the fame of Thérèse de Lisieux in the Catholic community (the city of Lisieux being the second place of pilgrimage in France after Lourdes), the celebration of her birthday can be an opportunity to highlight the important roles women play in society. It also reinforces UNESCO’s stress on the importance of culture in the promotion of universal values and as a vector of interreligious dialogue. The posthumously published works of the Carmelite saint, mystic, and doctor of the church are considered as important as those of other French writers of the 19th century, including Émile Zola and Guy de Maupassant.
A woman of heroic virtue, Thérèse lived during the peak of the industrial revolution. And although she entered the Carmel in 1888 when she was just 15 years old (and died in 1897, only 9 years after she became a nun), “her works show an integral humanism advocating for solidarity, justice, and peace between peoples, at the service of a call to universal love,” UNESCO’s press release reads.
The publication of the critical edition of her works was honored by the Académie Française in 1989 with the Grand Prix du Cardinal Grente.