[gtranslate] How St. Therese Became a Spiritual Sister to Two Missionary Priests - Eglise Catholique Saint James (Saint Jacques)

How St. Therese Became a Spiritual Sister to Two Missionary Priests

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St. Therese of Lisieux is known for her powerful prayer intercession, which she lived here on earth and as she dwells in heaven. Throughout her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she frequently shared her desire to save souls and strengthen others through her prayers and penances. She also wrote of her profound love for the priesthood that deepened when she saw the sins and failings of priests while on pilgrimage to Rome.

One of the greatest desires of her soul was to have a brother who was a priest. The other desire she had was to be a missionary. This was not God’s plan for her family because all her brothers died early in childhood, and she herself had a contemplative vocation. Instead, the Lord would raise up St. Therese to be both a spiritual sister and mother to priests and seminarians when she entered Carmel.

St. Therese often shared with great joy the abundant and lavish gifts Our Lord, her Divine Spouse, would give to her. Two of the gifts the Lord gave to her were two young men preparing to become missionaries priests: Pere Adolph Roulland and Abbe Maurice Belliere. Both men sought out a spiritual intercessor who would spiritually support their missionary endeavors. Both priests understood the power of prayer and penances offered on behalf of their sacred work as missionaries.

In St. Therese of Lisieux: Letters to Her Spiritual Brothers, many of the letters written by both missionary priests and St. Therese are translated, which is where the complete story can be found. These letters provide a picture of how St. Therese became a spiritual sister to both of these men and the intimate spiritual bond they shared in Christ.

While still in seminary, Abbe Maurice Belliere wrote to the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux in the hope of attaining a spiritual intercessor as he took a break from seminary to fulfill his mandatory conscription in the French military. He desired a spiritual sister to be a “confidante” who could strengthen and help him follow the vocation God was calling him to as a missionary. This spiritual sister and intercessor’s sole aim would be to seek the face of God on his behalf and to provide spiritual support.

His letter dated October 15, 1895, the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, arrived two days later and was received by the Prioress at the time, Mother Agnes of Jesus, who was St. Therese’s sister, Pauline Martin. Her sister knew St. Therese’s great desire for a priest-brother, so she assigned her the task of being a spiritual sister to then Maurice Belliere. The Lord answered this great desire of her heart.

A few months later, a soon-to-be ordained missionary priest, Pere Adolph Roulland, wrote to Carmel requesting a spiritual sister and intercessor who would spiritually support his apostolate. He was overjoyed when St. Therese was assigned to him by the new Prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague. To show his appreciation, he stopped at Carmel to celebrate Mass and so he could converse with the Mother Prioress and St. Therese, even though he could not see them through the grille.

The Mother Prioress allowed Pere Roulland and St. Therese to see one another once as he gave St. Therese Holy Communion. Mother Prioress made sure he knew which sister St. Therese was so they could see one another for that brief moment. This would be the only time they would meet in person this side of heaven. He was assigned as a missionary in China. Even though both priests received photographs of St. Therese to remind them of their spiritual sister fighting for them in prayer and through penances, only Pere Roulland saw her in person.

The letters St. Therese exchanged with both missionary priests are filled with great charity, tenderness, spiritual intimacy, and complete focus on Christ and His divine work. St. Therese and the priests referred to one another as brother and sister. This allowed for the deep spiritual bond to grow between them through intimate sharing of joys and sufferings. A spiritual communion developed that strengthened the apostolate of the priests and St. Therese.

One of the primary themes of St. Therese’s spiritual guidance to both priests was how they were called to embrace the Cross and the sufferings of their vocation. She encourages them in their suffering and frequently points out that this is how they will attain the Eternal Crown of Glory. She understood this deeply as she silently suffered on behalf of their apostolates. She was spiritually united to their sufferings in her own sufferings and offered them to Christ Crucified so that He would pour out many graces upon them and the souls they served.

In a letter to Pere Roulland dated May 9, 1897, found in the book St. Therese of Lisieux: Letters to Her Spiritual Brothers, translated and edited by Norman Russell, she wrote:

On this earth, where everything changes, one thing remains stable, and that is the conduct of the King of the Heavens with respect to His friends. Since He raised the standard of the Cross, it is in its shadow that we must fight, and win the victory. “The whole missionary life flourishes in the Cross,” said Theophane Venard, and again: “True happiness is to suffer. And in order to live, it is necessary for us to die.” My Brother, the beginnings of your apostolate are marked with the impression of the Cross—the Lord treats you as a privileged person. It is indeed as much by persecution and suffering as by brilliant preaching that He wishes to affirm His reign in the souls of men.

Spiritual sisterhood, brotherhood, maternity, and paternity is meant to constantly draw the gaze of those in these intimate relationships back to God. It is only in the safety of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary that such intimate sharing—as occurred in these letters—can be fully lived. Hearts on fire with Divine Love are able to love one another through deep prayer and sufferings across continents because their sole aim is the holiness of the other and the desire to save souls.

In the end, the Lord granted St. Therese’s deep desire to become a spiritual sister through these two missionary priests. It is the Lord who planted this desire deep within her heart and who gave her the graces of a profound and expansive love for both priests and missionaries. She wanted to be a missionary, and at the supernatural level she was, as she interceded through prayer, penances, and sufferings for the missionary apostolates of these two men.


Photo retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through prayer