First Person

How I learned to love Thérèse of Lisieux

At first I found the "little flower" insufferable. Then I read her unedited writing.

In my early adulthood I studied the 16th-century Carmelite mystics Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross at a Roman Catholic seminary. On my own I plowed through spiritual formation tomes written by Thomistic theologians mapping the interior journey of the soul.

Tome reading did not impress my teacher. He wanted me to love the 19th-century Carmelite mystic Thérèse of Lisieux. No, thank you. I’d read The Story of a Soul. The most loved saint besides Francis of Assisi? The greatest missionary of all time who never left her convent walls? Doctor of the church? The little way of spiritual childhood? I found her insufferable.

A decade later this teacher came to visit my husband and me when we lived in Europe. He made a pilgrimage to Lisieux and brought me presents: a picture book in French about the shrine, a collection of photographs of Thérèse, and a real treasure: a facsimile of the two notebooks and one letter which composed the original manuscript. This material rearranged, edited, and prettied up became The Story of a Soul, which those of us who read spiritual classics knew and loved—or hated.