August 9th is the Feast Day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who
was martyred on that day in 1942 in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Fr. Charles P. Connor, in
Classic Catholic Converts, writes:
The story of the Jewish Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of
the Cross, known in the world as Edith Stein, presents us with one of
the more brilliant converts to come to the Faith in [the twentieth] century;
it also places us in close contact with a horrendous tragedy of the modern
world, the Holocaust.
Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany on October 12, 1891, the youngest
of eleven children. In 1913 she began studies at the University of Göttingen
in Germany. She soon became a student of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl
and was later attracted to the work of Max Scheler, a Jewish philosopher
who converted to Catholicism in 1920. A chance reading of the autobiography
of Saint Teresa of Avila revealed to her the God of love she had long denied.
She entered the Church in 1922.
For eight years Edith lived with the Dominicans, teaching at Saint Magdelene's,
which was a training institute for teachers. She wrote:
Initially, when I was baptized on New Year's Day, 1922, I thought
of it as a preparation in the Order. But a few months later, when I saw
my mother for the first time after the baptism, I realized that she couldn't
handle another blow for the present. Not that it would have killed herbut
I couldn't have held myself responsible for the embitterment it would
In fact, after her conversion Edith continued to attend synagogue with her
mother. Meanwhile, she continued to grow and impress as a philospher. In
1925 she met the Jesuit Erich Pryzwara, a philosopher who would have a tremendous
influence on Hans Urs von Balthasar. Pryzwara encouraged Edith to study
and translate St. Thomas Aquinas; she eventually wrote a work comparing
Usserl with Aquinas.
In 1933 Edith entered the religious life with the Carmel of Cologne, Germany.
She fell in love with the person and writing of Saint Thérèse
of Lisieux. She wrote:
My impression was, that this was a life which had been absolutely
transformed by the love of God, down to the last detail. I simply can't
imagine anything greater. I would like to see this attitude incorporated
as much as possible into my own life and the lives of those who are dear
After taking her first vows, Edith was known as Sister Teresa Benedicta
of the Cross. She continued to write, Fr. Connor notes, "continually
developing the theme that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass are in fact one and the same sacrifice. From her religious background,
she knew the importance of sacrificial prayer for Old Testament prophets."
She wrote of how Jesus' sacrifice as the Incarnate God-man was the final,
perfect sacrifice that replaced all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
Because of the rise of Nazi power, Edith and her sister Rosa, who had also
converted to Catholicism, moved to Holland in 1938. On August 2, 1942, Edith
and her sister were taken from the convent by two S.S. officers. She was
martyred seven days later. Fr. Connor writes: "On October 11, 1998,
fifty-six years, two months, and two days after her death at Auschwitz,
Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was canonized a saint
of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II."
Ferdinand Holböck writes in New
Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church : 1984-1987 (Volume 2):
The Church now presents Sister Teresa Benedicta a Croce to us as a blessed
martyr, as an example of a heroic follower of Christ, for us to honour and
to emulate. Let us open ourselves up for her message to us as a woman of
the spirit and of the mind, who saw in the science of the cross the acme
of all wisdom, as a great daughter of the Jewish people, and as a believing
Christian in the midst of millions of innocent fellow men made martyrs.
She saw the inexorable approach of the cross. She did not flee in fear.
Instead, she embraced it in Christian hope with final love and sacrifice
and in the mystery of Easter even welcomed it with the salutation,"ave
crux spes unica". As Cardinal Höffner said in his recent pastoral
letter, "Edith Stein is a gift, an invocation and a promise for our
time. May she be an intercessor with God for us and for our people and for
Books on the life and martyrdom of Edith Stein
by Fr. Charles Connor
220 pages. Paperback. $14.95
Catholic Converts presents the compelling stories of over 25 well-known
converts to Catholicism from the 19th and 20th centuries. It tells of
powerful testimonials to God's grace, men and women from all walks of
life in Europe and America whose search for the fullness of truth led
them to the Catholic Church. It is the witness of brilliant intellectuals,
social workers, scientists, authors, film producers, clergy, businessmen,
artists and others who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, studied
and prayed their way into the Church. It contains a beautifully written
chapter on Edith Stein.
Stein: A Biography
by Waltraud Herbstrith
207 pages. Paperback. $12.95
A powerful and moving story of the remarkable Jewish woman who converted
to Catholicism, became a nun, achieved remarkable success in the male-dominated
world of German philosophy, and was sent to a Nazi death camp when she
refused to deny her Jewish heritage.
Waltraud Herbstrith has fashioned a warm, memorable portrait of this woman
who, as Jesuit philosopher Jan Nota points out in the introduction, "discovered
in Christ the meaning of human existence and suffering ... Edith Stein
was one of those Christians who lived out of a hope transcending optimism
and pessimism." Hers is a voice that speaks powerfully to all of
us today, and a life that stands as testimony to the profoundest values
of human existence, the significance of the individual, and the truths
of faith that can reconcile Christian and Jew, philosophy and religion,
oppressor and oppressed to heal a troubled world.
Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church, Vol. II (1984-1987)
by Ferdinand Holböck
320 pages. Paperback. $14.95
In this second volume of New Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church
are depicted the lives and deaths, the struggles and battles of those
women and men who were raised to the honors of the altar by Pope John
Paul II during the fours years from 1984 through 1987, in forty-nine beatification
ceremonies and in seven canonization liturgies.
Among them are Blesseds and Saints from a wide variety of countries, languages,
ages and walks of life: lay people, religious, priests, and bishops, confessors
and martyrs, including Edith Stein, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Titus Brandsma,
Teresa of the Andes, and many more. All of them not only deserve reverence,
but are worthy of imitation in their striving for perfection, in their
fidelity to the Catholic faith and to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Length: 90 minutes. Format: VHS. $19.95
Probe the heart and soul of Edith Stein, the exemplary Jewish convert,
philosopher, and Carmelite nun in this beautiful, authentic docudrama
produced in Germany. Be inspired by this dramatic portrayal of her heroic
holiness and virtue facing down a culture of death. A martyr of Auschwitz,
she was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Dubbed in English.