An Extraordinary Woman

An Extraordinary Woman

Saint Teresa of Avila was a master of the spiritual life who has attracted followers throughout the centuries. Who was this extraordinary woman? Her daughters, the Carmelite nuns in Terre Haute Indiana, share with us this brief, but poignant, account of her life.

Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Carmelite nun of the sixteenth century, brought to the Church a new lived expression of the ancient rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Living in Spain, after the Council of Trent, in times very much like our own, she determined to restore the primitive rule of Carmel which had been relaxed and to infuse into it a deeper spirit of service to the Church through prayer. To accomplish this, she founded her first monastery of Saint Joseph in Avila, in 1562. The new community was a small group of cloistered nuns, dedicated to a life of prayer in solitude, to poverty, and to an intense sisterly charity. During her lifetime, Teresa founded seventeen monasteries of nuns, and, with John of the Cross as her associate, she restored the primitive rule in newly established houses of the Spanish Carmelite friars. Before she died in 1582, she had the consolation of seeing her foundations of nuns and friars established as a separate province of the Carmelite Order, having its own distinct spirit, laws, and government.

Characteristic of Teresa were her vivacity and charm, her determination, and her dauntless courage to carry out anything and everything God asked of her. She possessed eminent common sense, with a warm human personality that was enriched with a great intelligence, and God given experience of the highest ways of prayer. Her writings display the variety of both her human and supernatural gifts and, at the same time, provide authentic and lofty teachings about prayer and the spiritual life, unequalled in Christian literature. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, signifying the validity and universality of her doctrine.

Teresa is an example and guide for men and women of this century in every situation and lifestyle. All those who love life, whose hearts are filled with noble ambitions, who are called to great exploits or to the heroicity of daily duty, might well take her as their patroness. This saint, aflame with love of God and alive with friendship for all her associates, shows us that holiness and wholesomeness are inseparable companions of sublime sanctity. In action and in prayer she challenges us to follow her to the heights.

Prayer was for Teresa of Avila an intimate and solitary conversation with our best friend, Jesus. She teaches us that there is no better road to God than the road of prayer, and she urges everyone to set out on this road with determination. Living in a time of upheaval, she warns us to believe only those persons who have patterned their lives on Christ. All her life, her prayers and her activities were directed to the upbuilding of the Church. Her last words are an echo of all Teresa of Avila believed. I am so happy, she said, to die a daughter of the Church.

Her name in religion was Teresa of Jesus. Her feast day is October 15th.


Adapted from: From Ash to Fire, A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila

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Written by
Carolyn Humphreys, O.C.D.S.