A nice girl like her
She was a bright child and excelled in her studies, but stopped practicing her faith or even praying during her teenage years. When she went to college, she started studying psychology, but changed universities and switched majors.
She became a protégé of Edmund Husserl, who was establishing a new form of philosophy called Phenomenology. The First World War interrupted her studies and she worked as a volunteer nurse for a time. She eventually received her doctorate summa cum laude.
Edith read more than just philosophy books. One night she read the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila. When she finished the book, the unreligious Jewish woman on the cutting edge of modern philosophy said, “This is truth!”
Within a year, she was baptized into the Catholic faith. For the next eleven years, she taught and wrote, showing how phenomenology could be integrated with Catholic thought. Finally, she decided to take the next step in imitation of St. Teresa of Avila, entering a Discalced Carmelite cloister. Two years later, she made her profession and took a religious name Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce (Theresa Blessed by the Cross).
Within a few years, however, she realized that she was a danger to her own cloister. It was 1938 and Germany was safe neither for people of Jewish birth nor for people living with them. She transferred to a cloister in Holland.
But when the Dutch bishops formally protested the deportation of Jews, the Nazis rounded up all Catholics of Jewish descent in Holland. Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was taken from her cloister and thrown into one of the infamous cattle cars bound for Auschwitz.
She died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz one week later on August 9, 1942 – exactly sixty-six years ago today.
Her writings before and after her conversion would influence a young Polish priest and philosophy student who would become the great Pope John Paul II.
Less than 40 years after her death, in a stadium not far from her cloister in Cologne, Pope John Paul II declared her one of the Blessed in heaven. She was canonized on October 11, 1998.
Edith Stein, nice Jewish girl and modern philosopher, is now also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr.
(adapted from earlier posts)