St. Edith Stein

The fascinating story of Edith Stein, later Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, deserves to be more widely known. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in a part of Germany that now belongs to Poland, Edith demonstrated a brilliant intellect and a strong spirit very early in life. Her quest to study philosophy led her to abandon belief in a personal God as a teenager. She progressed rapidly in her studies and became one of the leading disciples of a very famous philosopher, Edmund Husserl, founder of phenomenology. Husserl rejected the 19th century’s liberal relativism in favor of acceptance of objective reality as it is. This led him and many of his followers to a new openness to God. One of Husserl’s students, a close friend of Edith’s, thus became a Christian. When her husband was killed in World War I, Edith went to console her and found the new Christian solid and radiant in her faith, embracing the cross of suffering. This deeply impressed Edith and began her conversion to Christ. Ultimately, she discovered the writings of the Carmelite, Teresa of Avila, and knew that Christ was the truth, and that the fullness of Christ was to be found in the Catholic Church. She was baptized in Cologne and spent many years teaching in a Catholic school and living in the Dominican convent. Her widowed mother was distraught by her conversion. But whenever Edith was home, she continued to accompany her mother to the synagogue. When Edith finally decided to enter the Carmelites, her sister, Rosa, became Catholic and joined the convent with her. Edith took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, in honor of her two patron saints, and in dedication to a call to share in Christ’s suffering which first drew her to him. After Krystallnacht in 1938, when Jewish businesses and synagogues were attacked, Edith’s superior decided to have her and her sister moved from Cologne to a Carmel in Holland. Yet the Nazi invasion of Holland brought the danger right back to the Stein sisters. When the Dutch bishops dared make a public statement objecting to Nazi treatment of the Jews, the Germans retaliated by especially targeting Catholics of Jewish descent, including the Stein sisters. They, along with 240 others, were arrested, put in a boxcar, and sent to Auschwitz where they were killed on August 9, 1942. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was canonized in 1988 by John Paul II and proclaimed co-patron of Europe together with her beloved patron, St. Benedict. Biography by Dr. Italy