One of the saints who has revolutionized my understanding of God is St. Therese of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. Last week we made the four-hour train ride to the heart of Normandy to visit the hometown of this beloved saint. In the background you can see the dome of the Basilica built in St. Therese’s honor.
If you ever come by this way, we cannot recommend highly enough the lovely Ermitage Ste-Thérèse, a retreat center for pilgrims in the heart of the city, wedged between the Carmel, the Basilica, and Les Buissonets, the childhood home of St. Therese. The sisters who run the Basilica, from Asia, Africa, and South America, were friendly, cheerful, and ever helpful.
St. Therese greets you on the way in.
The Ermitage is run by the Missionary Workers of Donum Dei, founded by French priest Marcel Roussel-Galle, born in 1910. Père Roussel had the greatest devotion to St. Therese, second only to his love of the Blessed Virgin, and founded a community based on St. Therese’s offering to Merciful Love. Their work was to convert pagan souls to Christ, through young women consecrated to God and vowed to virginity. Their first conversions took place among the prostitutes in Pigalle, and quickly spread among pagan souls in the suburbs, the sick in hospitals, students in schools… Foundations were multiplied, spreading to other continents. In the 1980s, the community was enlarged to include youth and families who wished to consecrate their lives to spreading devotion to Merciful Love. Before his death, Père Roussel entrusted the spiritual family to the order of Carmel.
The chapel of the Ermitage, dedicated to Notre Dame du Sourire, Our Lady of the Smile, a reference to the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the Martin’s home that, in a miraculous vision, smiled at Therese when she was mortally ill and cured her.
View from one of our windows, with the roof of the Carmelite chapel in the near distance.
On the same street as the Ermitage, only a few yards away, is the Carmel that St. Therese entered, and where she is buried.
The façade of the Carmelite chapel (the grounds, as you can see, are undergoing renovation).
The chapel up close, with St. Michael standing guard.
Interior of the Carmelite chapel, where St. Therese attended Mass every day. It has unfortunately undergone one of those minimalist renovations so many old churches have suffered from, its pews and kneelers taken out and replaced with plain benches, its stone tiles gutted, leaving only the bare unpainted concrete, and its beautiful white walls covered up by alternating wooden panels. In truth, I couldn’t tell if it was a finished renovation or if it was temporary, that’s how clumsy it looked. You can see in the distance a floating, crucifixless Jesus. I believe this was the carving on the original crucifix behind the altar, removed and placed on its own during the renovation.
Fortunately, the statue of St. John of the Cross was kept, as was that of the mother of the Discalced Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Avila, on the other side of the entrance.
Here lie under the reliquary of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus the Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus (Pauline), Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart (Marie), Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face (Céline), sisters of the saint
The wax statue is fashioned after the saint at the moment of her death, a delicate smile on her face. The saint is buried below. Engraved along the top of the case are her words: Je veux passer mon ciel faire du bien sur la terre; “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on earth.” Above her is the actual statue of Notre Dame du Sourire, the one that cured St. Therese during her illness.
To the Blessed Therese, all my gratitude for a healing obtained by her intercession. Queen Amelie of Portugal, Princess of France, May-September 1923
Among the other plaques: Gratitude to St Therese for her protection during the war, 1914-1918. D.G.
To the angelic virgin of Lisieux who sacrificed herself for priests. Gratitude for my healing. Father C.
A stained glass panel of the saint with her father.
A statue of St. Therese (you will find her statues everywhere in Lisieux) outside the Carmelite chapel.
To be continued…